OP-ED | Transit in Connecticut is Great! ... When It Works
Back in July, right after the opening of the new Hartford Line, I decided that I was going to do what I’d always wanted to do but never had been able to manage: commute to work using public transit. Over the next five months I re-learned the hard lessons transit riders everywhere know: transit is a dream when everything goes smoothly, and a nightmare when it doesn’t.
Why did I bother? I have a perfectly functional car, so taking transit isn’t mandatory for me. It also isn’t better for the household budget, nor does it save me time. Fares are not cheap, and I knew from the start that taking transit would take longer than just me in my car.
No, I decided to make this change because, for one, I’m sick of Hartford traffic. I also know that transit is better not just for the environment but for the life and health of our entire region.
Third, anyone who knows me knows that I just love trains and buses. I go to cities and ride the subway for fun, for example, or take the bus around. So actually using local transit to commute is both good for the region and good for my soul.
Except, of course, when it’s pure agony.
I live in Enfield and commute to work in East Hartford, which seems like it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for transit. A bus line stops right in front of my workplace, too, which is pretty rare! Therefore, I originally decided to use a combination of train and bus to get to work. I would take the new Hartford Line down to Union Station in Hartford, and catch a bus from there to work. It sounded simple.
Right away, a few problems emerged. Annoyingly, the closest train station is in Windsor Locks — and the only practical way to get to it is to drive there. So I’d still be driving, just not quite as far.
The train itself was great. The Monday after the launch of the Hartford Line I boarded CTRail, purchased a ticket on-board (the ticket vending system wasn’t installed in Windsor Locks yet), and was at Union Station in Hartford about 20 minutes later.
Unfortunately, my bus left from Market Street, which is all the way on the other side of downtown. After a brisk walk I would catch my local bus, and 15 minutes later I’d be at work — half an hour before my shift started. Not bad!
Going home was harder. The bus left work just after my shift ended and spat me out on Market Street about 20 minutes later. I then had to walk back across downtown to catch the train — which left an agonizing hour later.
So, to sum up, I left my house at 7 a.m., caught the train in Windsor Locks at 7:22, boarded the bus to work at 8:15, and arrived at 8:30 for my 9 a.m. shift. I would leave work at 6 p.m., go downtown, and wait for my train to arrive at 7:15 (when it was on time). I’d get home by 7:45, exhausted.
This was not working.
After doing this for a while I dropped down to taking the train once or twice a week, and then I stopped altogether.
The introduction of the GoCT card drew me back to transit in October. The GoCT card lets the user pay for fares on any bus using a single refillable card, and calculates the lowest possible fares. Excited, I decided to catch the express bus to Hartford instead of the train.
Once again, it works great going to work. The bus leaves Enfield Square Park and Ride, which is only a mile from my house, at 7:48 a.m., gets downtown about a half-hour later, and drops me off right where my local bus leaves. That bus gets to my workplace by 9, just on time.
Getting home, though, is another story. The last express bus back to Enfield leaves at 6:33 p.m., meaning that I suddenly have a very slim margin for error. Theoretically, the bus should pick me up at work at 6:03 and get me to where the express bus leaves by 6:19. In practice, though, that bus is always late, meaning that I’d pace back and forth at the stop, frantically checking the Transit app on my phone, and trying to plan what I’d do if I missed the express bus. I haven’t yet, but it’s been close — especially the day the bus driver shut down the bus and inexplicably vanished for 10 minutes before returning.
It’s still a long day. I leave home at 7:30 a.m. and get back around 7:15 p.m. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it feels like I’m just torturing myself for no good reason.
The good news is that the system can improve and, in parts of the state, it already is. Next week’s column will be all about that.
In the meantime, I’ll see you on the bus!
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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