With transportation still at the top of City Hall’s agenda, Mayor Toni Harp will use the midterm to hone in on the twin issues of transit and unemployment.
While her professed commitment to improving city transit dates back to her first state of the city address a full year ago, Harp has only now begun to make good on incremental steps taken over the course of her first year in office. Chief among them was the acquisition of a grant for $1 million that will focus efforts on the specific bus routes that move people around the city and out into the suburbs. The grant — sponsored by Federal Transportation Administration, the state Department of Transportation and the Board of Alders — covers the costs of an extensive study that will identify the central barriers to effective and exhaustive bus routes. Though the grant was approved by Harp and the Board of Alders in late 2014, the early stages of the study, such as setting up a working plan and beginning data collection, are just now getting underway.
“This is a study that will tell us, if we were to start from scratch and knowing what we know about where people need to go, how we should configure a bus system in New Haven,” Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker said.
The study comes at an opportune moment, Redeker added. Connecticut has not, in many years, taken a look at the current bus services to see whether or not they have been adapting and are still sufficient for residents and businesses’ needs, he said. The study has two parts — finding out who needs to be served and the best way of doing so.
A recent report co-authored by the Greater New Haven Job Access and the Transportation Working Group, produced by the data non-profit DataHaven, indicated that nearly one quarter of households do not have access to a car. The report revealed that many heads of families were unemployed not because they could not find a job, but because they could not get to their jobs. According to Doug Hausladen ’04, transit director for the city of New Haven, the most efficient way of tackling this issue would be to reroute and expand bus routes.
Hausladen added that although New Haven has 100 percent transit penetration — everyone has access to the buses — it often takes too long for people to get to where they need to go, rendering buses ineffective.
“Seventy percent of jobs in the New Haven area take over 90 minutes to commute one way on bus,” Hausladen said. “That’s three hours a day to get to and from a job that most likely is not paying very much.
Of seven commuters interviewed Thursday morning, five said it takes them at least one hour every day to arrive at their jobs.
City Hall Spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Harp’s commitment to transportation has been unwavering, echoing the lofty language the mayor used in her state of the city address last year.
“The mayor really sees transportation in New Haven as a civil rights issue,” Grotheer said. “It’s about civil rights and giving all residents the ability to get around effectively.”
Transportation departments at both the city and state level are currently in the process of deciding the scope of the services the study will examine, according to Hausladen. He said he hopes the final version of the study will be released in June.
Once the study is released, city officials will be able to present a concrete plan to the state for rerouting and expanding bus lines, Hausladen said.
“We can’t give residents a better job, but we can give them better access to existing jobs,” Hausladen said.
Eighty-four percent of participants in the DataHaven report cited transportation as their main barrier to work.