When David Smith ’08 faced a half-hour commute to Yale from his temporary home at the University of New Haven, he turned to an unfamiliar source for help. Smith began riding the D bus twice each day, and to his surprise, it was a reliable and efficient option — one unknown to many members of the Yale community.
“I got to know lots of normal, everyday people,” Smith said. “But I never saw a Yale student.”
In an effort to attract more patrons like Smith who do not usually consider public transportation, city officials will offer free passes to new riders Thursday in a citywide event dubbed “Ride the Bus To Work Day.” But many riders on the B and D lines said they were skeptical that the city can increase ridership on bus lines, and suggested that officials should focus on improving services for existing customers rather than trying to attract those with other transit options.
According to a City Hall press release issued last week, buses would help save commuters thousands of dollars every year. The annual cost of commuting on a Connecticut Transit bus is $540, while on average driving a car would cost between $6,000 and $11,400 per year.
Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison, who helped organize the event, said public transportation can cure many of downtown’s congestion woes. Other officials said that if given alternatives, car-owning commuters would choose to leave their vehicles at home out of a concern for the environment.
But on Wednesday, several bus patrons said commuters with other means of transit would only ride the bus as a last resort.
New Haven resident Marilyn Grimes, who was waiting for the D bus at a stop on the Green on Wednesday afternoon, said many factors discourage potential riders from taking the bus.
“I only take the bus because I get a free pass from my job,” she said. “My bus line only runs until 5:40, and then if I miss it, I have to take another bus and walk at night through a scary neighborhood … late at night. When the teenagers get on [the bus] … [they] start making trouble.”
Grimes said bus fares are rising and prices are becoming increasingly prohibitive.
Thomas, a city resident who declined to give his last name, said officials do not have their priorities straight.
“It’s all poor people on this bus,” King said. “Why are they wasting their time with getting white people to ride the bus when we need it?”
Mattison said socioeconomic and racial bias may be hindering the city’s efforts to win state funding for improving public transit infrastructure. He said that because the city’s bus system must vie with the state’s highways and bridges for money, the city’s predominantly poor and working-class ridership is often put at a systemic disadvantage.
“Sometimes, people forget that New Haven is still a poor city, and people here count on buses to get to work,“ he said. “You can’t imagine how much the state subsidized drivers, but then they won’t allow the buses to run at a deficit.”
Mattison said if officials can show that buses can appeal to a wider swath of New Haven residents, it may become easier to secure more funding.
Eight million riders from the greater New Haven area use CTTransit each year, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Eight million of these riders are from the New Haven area.