West Ender Says Region’s Bus System Should Become "A Vehicle for Change"
by Andy Hart
April 03, 2008
Like many Hartford residents, Anton Rick-Ossen of Girard Avenue rides the bus a lot. And, like a lot of bus riders, he thinks there are many ways the system can be expanded and improved.
But, unlike most people, Rick-Ossen put his thoughts down in a report, entitled “Get on the Bus, A treatise on the Hartford Bus System or The Means to Make a Better Hartford.” He has subsequently presented “Get on the Bus” to Connecticut Transit, Mayor Eddie Perez, Hartford City Coun¬cil members, the Capital Region Coun¬cil of Governments and several other organizations.
By making certain changes, Rick-Ossen believes Greater Hartford’s bus system can help reduce unemployment and poverty in Hartford and improve the region’s economy as a whole. “I believe that if you can create a city that’s not car-dependdent, it’s like giving everyone a raise...Based on my research, every dollar we invest in mass transit will generate $3 for the regional economy,” he said.
A Hartford native, Rick-Ossen began riding the bus while a student at Noah Webster School. He currently rides the bus back and forth to his job at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, except on days when he has class at Trinity College, where he is working on a Master’s Degree in economics.
While part of Rick-Ossen’s report is based on his own expereince, he also surveyed over 150 of his fellow bus riders, discussed the issue with public officials and did extensive research on the internet.
One of the major problems with the current system, Rick-Ossen said, is that virtually all routes lead to Downtown Hartford, mainly because most major roads in the city are arranged like the spokes of a wheel with Downtown as the hub. This may have made sense several years ago, but as Downtown’s place as a center of employment and shopping has declined, so new centers of commerce have opened up. Malls, shopping centers, healthcare facilities and other businesses that provide employment for hundreds of city residents are now located throughout the region.
What is needed right now is a major north-south route, Rick-Ossen said. Originally, he felt this route should run along Prospect and New Park Avenues. But after discussion with members of the West End Community Center’s Jobs and Economic Justice Com¬mittee, of which he is a member, he feels the best route would run from Albany Avenue to New Britain Avenue, via Woodland Street, Sis¬son Avenue and New Park Avenue.
Using such a route, a person living in the North End could take a bus straight to New Britain Avenue and then catch a bus to a job at Avery Heights or West Farms Mall without wasting time going Downtown. On the way home, he or she could stop off at the Super Stop & Shop on New Park Avenue or meet someone for dinner on Park Street or Farmington Avenue.
“Cutting out the loop to Down¬town could save a bus rider up to 40 minutes, which would be a real benefit to someone, especially if they’re working and raising a family,” said Rick-Ossen.
Access to the employment could also be improved by changing express routes so that they serve those in the city as well as those in the suburbs, said Rick-Ossen.
Typically, the terminus of such express routes is an isolated suburban parking lot, convenient for suburbanites who drive but rarely located near sources of employment for city residents, said Rick-Ossen. By having expresses run to commercial centers and other sources of employment as well isolated commercial lots, the express routes could serve both suburbanites and city residents equally.
Rick-Ossen feels improving the bus system is vital for improving the lot of Hartford residents, particularly in terms of employment. According to his paper, in the Greater Hartford region as a whole, 90 percent of residents have access to a vehicle but in Hartford only 64 percent of the households have a car.
While Connecticut Transit has extended its hours of operation, Rick-Ossen still feels buses must run later and more frequently at night and on the weekends. How¬ever, he adds that Phil Frye of Con¬necticut Transit has told him that the company’s budget will increase in June 2008 in order to provide extended service for certain routes.
Rick-Ossen also feels that the system’s bus shelters must be improved both for the comfort of current passengers and as an incentive to those who do not ride the bus to do so. “Suburban residents who currently drive are most likely to be turned off [to the idea of riding a bus] by the sight of wet miserable passengers standing next to graffiti and litter,” he says on page 8 of “Get on the Bus.”
Improving the upkeep of bus stops can be facilitated by reducing their number, another recommendation contained in “Get on the Bus.” The high number of stops currently made by buses makes rides longer and many of the people whom Rick-Ossen interviewed said they don’t ride the bus because of the time involved. Less stops would also decrease congestion and wear and tear on the buses themsleves.
Based on his interviews, Rick-Ossen feels many people don’t take the bus because they feel it is an inferior product or they simply don’t consider it as a viable alternative to driving a car. In the case of suburbanites who work in Hartford, however, many said they greatly appreciated being able to ride the bus to work so as to avoid the high parking rates Downtown. “When public transit is the wise financial decision, people chose it,” Rick-Ossen writes on page 10 of “Get on the Bus.”
With gas prices continuing to climb, it is reasonable to expect that many people will begin to see mass transit as a “wise financial decision.”
However to reap the full benefits of such a trend, Rick-Ossen thinks mass transit should be promoted more heavily. He said Governor Jodi Rell’s iniative of providing 10 free bus passes to new riders is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done. One promotion he suggested is to make the bus free on Fridays.
In addition to the economic benefits of mass transit, Rick-Ossen thinks the bus can bring people from all areas of the region together and thus enhance understanding and cooperation between city and town and rich and poor.
“Right now, we just drum up support for some changes,” he said.