Although public bus ridership in New Haven has declined year over year, officials at CT Transit said they plan to maintain the current level of service while cutting costs internally.
Philip Fry, assistant general manager for planning and marketing for CT Transit, a state-owned company that operates the city’s bus services, said layoffs in the retail and service sectors, where the majority of the bus’s patrons work, have spurred a 3.5 percent decrease in bus ridership last month as compared to August 2008. But despite lower ridership, as fewer people go to work on a daily basis, legislators pledged earlier this month to avoid hiking fares, to potentially add new hybrid buses and to market specifically to train commuters.
“In many cases, [bus passengers] are on the lower end of that sector,” he said, “and are some of the first to feel the crunch of the downturn.”
CT Transit announced Sept. 16 that it would run a free shuttle from the New Haven Green to Union Station, a strategy Fry said will encourage train passengers to patronize the city’s buses. And though CT Transit has already begun replacing some buses on the road since 1996, Fry said federal funds recently allocated to the state Department of Transportation may bring several diesel-electric hybrid buses to the CT Transit fleet.
The recent downturn in ridership — due in part to state unemployment rate at 8.1 percent, a 32-year high — has counteracted the 2008 spike prompted by the increase in gas prices last year, Fry said. Current ridership figures are on par with those of 2007, he added.
Although CT Transit derives 25 percent of its revenue from bus fares, Fry said CT Transit will not hike the current $1.25 fare, instead undergoing an internal exercise to cut costs. He said company employees will not be laid off but that overtime will be cut and workers will be encouraged to turn their computers and lights off as much as possible.
There have not been discussions between CT Transit and city officials about how to increase ridership, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. She added that, in terms of unemployment, New Haven is “in a better position than many cities” and thus ridership may see some recovery as city residents return to work. The New Haven area lost a total of 2.1 percent of its jobs since August 2008, compared to a state job loss rate of 4.2 percent during the same period.
Given state budget regulations, CT Transit does not advertise, but the service has been reaching out to students and seniors with information sessions to encourage public transportation use, Fry said. Yale freshmen received information packets and a one-week trial bus pass upon arriving to campus.
Teri O’Neil, a New Haven resident who said she takes the G2 bus to and from work every day, said she would not have minded a fare increase.
“It still would have been a hell of a lot cheaper [than using a car],” she said.