Tuesday, June 25, 2024

CTfastrak: #1 in the US

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Talking Transportation

By Jim Cameron
President
CAMERON COMMUNICATIONS INC
Author: Off The Record: Confessions of a Media Consultant

Did you know that Connecticut is home to the “best BRT” system in the US?  Do you even know what BRT is?

Well, BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit, and Connecticut’s almost ten year-old CTfastrak has just been named the best such system in the US by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

CTfastrak is the express bus system between New Britain and downtown Hartford, operating on a dedicated “guideway” of 9.4 miles which runs along an abandoned railroad right-of-way adjacent to the New Haven to Springfield Hartford rail Line.  It’s a special buses-only highway with ten stations.

Fifteen years in the planning, CTfastrak was designed to provide an alternative to driving on the usually-congested I-84.  The first ever BRT system in the state, CTfastrak cost $567 million with 80% of the funding coming from the federal government.

Eight bus routes run along the guideway with headways of as little as seven minutes between buses.  When west-bound buses reach the end of CTfastrak in New Britain they either turn around or continue on along city streets to destinations as distant as Bristol, Central CT State University and Waterbury.

Fares range from $1.75 for a two-hour pass to heavily discounted fares for kids, seniors and monthly pass holders.  To expedite boarding, you must buy your ticket before hopping on the bus (perhaps using their Token Transit app) in case random ticket inspectors ride along.  Get caught without a ticket and the fine is $75.

Special 60-foot, articulated buses were ordered for CTfastrak, each capable of seating 60 customers.  Many of the buses are diesel-electric hybrids, using regenerative charging while braking.  Speed limits on the guideway vary but top out at 45 mph.  And yes, the buses include free WiFi (Metro-North take note!).

According to CDOT, ridership on CTfastrak last year topped out at 2.8 million passengers.

Because the buses operate on their own highway, there are plans underway to test autonomous driving.  But, CT state law still requires a human behind the wheel acting as a Safety Operator.

Of the riders on CTfastrak, 50% earn less than $75,000 a year.  Fewer than half of them own a car so these buses are the best (or maybe even the only) way for them to get to and from work, doctors’ appointments and to see family and friends.  Signage and announcements on the bus are bilingual.

Around the bus stations on CTfastrak there has been “substantial development” according to Benjamin Limmer, CDOT’s Chief of Public Transportation.  Transit oriented development (T.O.D.) was always part of the plan, encouraging housing and offices within walking distance of the stations.

There has been discussion about expanding the BRT network to the east, possibly as far as the UConn campus in Storrs, but buses would have to take the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on I-84 and I-384 and then switch to the local roads.

BRT will also be coming to New Haven in 2029, improving service for 40% of existing riders and, hopefully, attracting more.   CDOT is currently designing the new line, to be called MOVE New Haven, under a $25 million federal grant.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

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