Saturday, June 15, 2024

Politicians & Communting

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“Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron

Do the folks in state government know what it is like to be a commuter?

When’s the last time that Governor Ned Lamont took a train… not for a photo op, but for real? He does have a home in Greenwich so he could be enjoying the great service on The Hartford Line and Metro-North. But it seems he’s always driving around in that big (chauffeured) SUV which, by the way, is not electric (despite his calls for Connecticut to “go green” and all-electric by 2035!)

C’mon Governor: walk the talk!

Or how about our lawmakers? When the legislature is in session, why aren’t they on the train also? And why do State Representatives and State Senators all have special license plates for their cars? Does that give them special parking privileges or an exemption from law enforcement?

Admittedly, if the people we send to Hartford to represent us are all driving, at least they know how bad the roads are… not that they’ve done anything to improve on that gridlock. But if they took our trains and buses I’m guessing maybe they’d fix what’s wrong there, pronto.

And then there’s the CDOT. Their beautiful new headquarters in Newington on Berlin Turnpike is serviced by four CT Transit bus routes, including one from Hartford’s Union (train) Station. But I wonder how many staffers opt to ride the very mass transit system their agency funds as their giant parking lot always seems full.

Before Michael Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York City, and quite often while he was in office, he rode on the subways to get to work. His successors did not. In Boston, then-Governor Michael Dukakis regularly rode “The T”.

These days they’d probably claim it’s “security” that prevents them from riding mass transit, but that sounds like more of an excuse than explanation.

This week’s column was inspired by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s recent admission that she doesn’t even know where her city’s Metro lines run. I guess she doesn’t ride either?

Does Governor Lamont know what it’s like to ride on standing-room-only Metro-North trains at rush hour? Or has he tried to take Shore Line East to New London with its four-and-a-half hour gaps in service from New Haven?

Or consider our state’s bus system: how many elected officials, even locally, have ridden the buses their constituents rely on every day? If they haven’t, how can they empathize with what it’s like, let alone fix it?

So who’s to represent the commuter? Why, the newly formed CPTC, the Connecticut Public Transportation Council, successor to the Commuter Council. But its Chairman, Jim Gildea, tells me he gets the cold shoulder from the CDOT, no longer invited to media events where the pols wrench their shoulders patting their own backs about how much they’re supporting mass transit.

While the CPTC meets monthly and is always attended by Metro-North’s staff, the CDOT only shows up quarterly. And when big announcements about schedule changes and such are upcoming, the Council is given no advance notice.

The new year would be a great chance for the folks who write our laws and run our state’s mass transit to change their commuting patterns and understand better what its really like to be a commuter.

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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