December 24, 2006
By HELEN UBINAS, Courant Staff Writer
It's a Christmas miracle!
OK, not exactly. But it's definitely a very merry day at Hartford's Bowles Park now that CT Transit has returned bus service to the housing project.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" exclaimed Aubery Phillips when I called to give him the good news.
About two weeks ago, I wrote about CT Transit's bah humbug decision to halt service inside the 61-acre housing project after 7 p.m. on weeknights and Saturdays, leaving residents returning home from work or school or Christmas shopping on their own.
It's a long, dark, perilous road inside that neglected complex, as I found out when Phillips, a frequent bus rider, was kind enough to stalk a Granby Street bus stop with me one night.
Before long, we saw plenty of folks who were more than inconvenienced by the change, including a young mother lugging a couple of heavy grocery bags to her Nahum Drive apartment. And after the column ran, I heard from lots more. "It's just criminal," one woman called to say.
It wasn't personal, CT Transit's David Lee told me then. It was a decision based solely on numbers: According to their research, not enough people from Bowles were using the service at night, and more riders wanted service directly to and from Bloomfield's Copaco shopping center.
They couldn't do both, so residents of Bowles Park found themselves on the losing end. Again.
The residents of this project have learned to live with peeling paint, overgrown grass and mice that won't go away as the troubled Hartford Housing Authority continues to stumble toward some sort of real solution for this aging complex.
But fast-forward 13 days, lots of angry resident phone calls and letters later and Santa Lee called, bearing gifts.
"I'm calling to let you know that I am sending a letter today with the happy news that we are restoring the service to Nahum Drive and Bowles Park," he said.
Two of the buses will return to the pre-existing service, terminating at Bowles after dropping folks off where they need to be inside the complex, starting Jan. 2. The last three will make stops inside on demand; that service is already in place.
"I hope this will please the residents," Lee said. "And I hope this will show we are reasonable people who listen to our customers."
After they make a big stink, anyways. But in the spirit of Christmas, good for CT Transit for doing the right thing.
And better for the residents of Bowles Park for making it happen, because - make no mistake - there's a bigger victory here than just the restoration of one bus route.
It's always easy for those in power to ignore those without. But this is an example, small perhaps, of what is possible when people, no matter how disenfranchised, rally. When they force the folks in charge to listen and refuse to go away until they do.
"It's the only way to do it," said Jean Pottinger, a Bowles resident and longtime warrior who first called me about the change.
When I caught up with Phillips Thursday, he said he'd been getting a little disillusioned with tenant meetings, wondering if anything was actually getting done, if anyone was listening.
"This is inspiring," he said. "I'm extremely happy."
It's a little early yet for New Year's resolutions, but residents in the rest of the city should take a lesson from the folks at Bowles Park and resolve to make 2007 the year when they not only expect more, but demand more.
Today, a bus route. Tomorrow, the world.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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