Harp pushes expanded bus service, flights

WilliamFreedberg_train-10
Photo by William Freedberg.

One of the most salient policy shifts proposed during Mayor Toni Harp’s annual State of the City address last Monday night was a renewed focus on the city’s transportation services. Harp’s remarks have drawn the attention of New Haven residents on and off Yale’s campus.

Calling transportation an “economic and civil rights issue,” Harp said that she would make transportation a central priority of her administration, striking out on two new fronts. She said her administration plans to expand the CT Transit bus system, revamping routes and adding new vehicles to increase access to jobs in the city. She said she also plans to turn New Haven into more of a hub for air traffic, proposing to add flights from Tweed Airport to Florida, Washington and Chicago.

“Rest assured we’re working to deliver economic improvement to the city’s outlying areas,” she said. “We’re poised to put energy and resources into their vibrant future as well.”

New Haven Transit Chief Doug Hausladen ’04 called the faults of the New Haven public transit system, and specifically its public bus service, “unconscionable.” Hausladen cited an AAA study showing that owning a car would now cost the average resident around $9,100 a year as of 2013, as well as the fact that the CT Transit bus system in New Haven sharply declines in “frequency” in the evening hours, making getting home from a late-night job or other obligation decidedly difficult.

Hausladen added that the discussion of transportation concerned not only plane and bus travel, but also other initiatives Harp announced during her speech, such as making it easier to bike in New Haven and alleviating city traffic congestion.

Mark Abraham, the executive director of the public information non-profit Data Haven, said the promised efforts to improve Southern Connecticut’s sole airport were encouraging. Abraham said he would look forward to having a more convenient flight option than LaGuardia Airport, his current airport of choice.

“Most residents of our state live closer to Tweed airport,” he said. “The state should care about having two strong airports.”

However, the expansion of Tweed, which becomes famously crowded during token events like Yale’s Commencement and the New Haven Open, has not always been so uncontroversial. Residents of the town of East Haven have frequently voted to reject renovation projects for Tweed for fear of inconveniencing residents — the most recent such instance was the rejection of a federally approved project in 2007. The city of New Haven has also struggled to lure new airlines to Tweed, whose only currently servicing airline is US Airways Express.

Laurence Grotheer, the communications director at City Hall, said the Mayor plans “to work with East Haven and for them” in any projects concerning Tweed Airport, and that “access to other larger hub airports is important and necessary” for the area’s economic future.

Grotheer said that the city will inevitably need state funding in order to complete both projects. Concerns over state help, among other things, led Harp and Governor Dannel Malloy to meet last Friday afternoon. Grotheer declined to discuss further details of the meeting, and the Governor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

City Hall Legislative Director Rebecca Bombero said in an email that the Friday meeting was “the start of an open dialogue about projects in New Haven.”

On campus, Harp’s new transportation policies raised eyebrows, but drew largely positive responses. Nine out of 10 Yale students interviewed said they would be more likely to use Tweed Airport if it expanded service according to Harp’s plan. Right now, Tweed only offers direct flights to Philadelphia.

Andres Valdivieso ’15 said the new service being offered at Tweed would be “awesome” for getting back to his native Florida, while Jackson Stallings ’17 said that flight expense were his main concern. Bill Drexel ’16 said that he had had some “sketchy experiences” at Tweed, mainly related to flight delays and maintenance, and that he would be less inclined to use the airport anyway until those issues have been resolved.

Yale students seem less inclined to ride CT transit buses in the future, no matter their routes  — 9 out of 10 interviewed said they had never ridden one of the buses, and all interviewed said they usually found the existing Yale Shuttle suitable for their needs.

From the vantage point of Abraham’s DataHaven, New Haven’s largest taxpayer and employer can play an incomparable role as a lobbyist, using its considerable resources to “lobby federal officials.”

The CT Transit bus system was founded in 1976 and Tweed Airport was constructed in 1931.

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