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Gov. Ned Lamont Suspends CT Transit Bus Fare Through June

As a reprieve from high inflation and gas prices, and to hopefully spur ridership back toward pre-pandemic levels, Connecticut will use $8.1 million of ARPA funds to cover public bus fares for the next three months.

(TNS) — Standing outside the Old State House in Hartford, Ct., Gov. Ned Lamont stopped his speech and called out to a passenger disembarking from a CT Transit bus, "How was your ride? Was it OK?"

The passenger responded with a thumbs-up, prompting an "I like it," from the governor before he turned back to the podium.

Lamont was speaking Wednesday morning on Main Street about the statewide suspension of fares on public buses beginning Friday and running through June 30.

The program for three fare-free months, first announced last week, is offered to give residents a break from the rising cost of gasoline and spike in inflation nationwide.

"We did the free bus service now through July 1 given the fact that inflation is ravaging our country and world, and particularly what that means in terms of gasoline prices," Lamont said. "In most cases, it's $3.50 a ride or two bucks a ride, whatever that might be. ... A lot of those single moms, single parents that could be spending six bucks to and from to go get their groceries, now for the next three months they'll be able to do that at no cost."

The free fares are offered on all public buses, including CTfastrak buses that offer longer routes, as well as local buses that operate within one municipality, Department of Transportation spokesperson Josh Morgan said.

The emergency legislation allowing free transportation does not, however, include "premium" services in each municipality, such as Norwalk's WHEELS 2U ride-hailing service, Morgan said.

The state legislature appropriated $8.1 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay for the free rides, according to the bill.

Alongside the desire to ease expenses for Connecticut residents, Lamont and DOT Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe said the free rides are an incentive to bring previous riders back to the buses and to invite new riders to try public transportation.

"Bus transportation is clearly an essential service for everyday life for many in our state. It gets people to work, doctors' appointments, grocery stores or school," Rolfe said. "Each weekday, there are 100,000 trips happening on these buses around the state of Connecticut. We continue to gain bus riders back as we continue to emerge from the COVID pandemic, and we are now at approximately 75 percent of prepandemic ridership."

A Hearst Connecticut Media Group analysis agreed that the number of rides has not fully rebounded during the pandemic. The Hartford lines, the most utilized of the CT Transit systems that operate in five of Connecticut's major cities, logged 660,000 trips in January — compared to 1.4 million in January 2020, the analysis found.

The fare-free period also applies to public transportation services for disabled residents, for whom the $3.50 fare can be a greater hardship, said Vicki Shotland, executive director of the Greater Hartford Transit District.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greater Hartford Transit District had about 500,000 riders annually, but has returned to about 70 percent of its prepandemic ridership, Shotland said.

"It's been a slower return for our riders compared to the fixed-route service, CT Transit," Shotland said. "There are varying reason for those who did not return yet. But cost is certainly a factor, beside the fact that people are working from home, special needs programs shut down their doors for two years; senior centers remained closed for extended periods of time. With that said, our passengers will return as businesses and programs are recovering."

For bus rider Gary Szeflinski, who does not have a car nor does he drive, the three months of free rides will make a difference.

He said he takes public buses around the Hartford area three to four times a week and was looking for the best route from Main Street to the post office on Wednesday morning.

The fare-free incentive was reminiscent of the previous emergency legislation lifting the fare to stimulate the local economy, Szeflinski said.

"Sure, why not, it was (free) in the summer to get people out," he said. "It's this or Uber — but this is a heck of a lot cheaper."


(c)2022 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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