Murphy talks transit issues with Northeastern Conn. bus riders

Norwich Bulletin

For Dayville resident Christy Easow, the Northeastern Connecticut transit buses are more than just a way to get around the region.

“I ride everyday; it’s how I get to Quinebaug Valley Community College where I’m studying engineering,” he said. “The service is excellent and it’s affordable, only $1 a trip.”

On Tuesday, Easow, 38, was joined on part of his daily ride on the green line by a busload of local, state and federal legislators who were invited to get an up-close and personal look at how the transit district operates and hear what’s needed to make it better.

“There’s a strong need in this region for public transportation,” said Hoween Flexer, regional services director for the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, which runs the northern transit service. “The idea was to give these lawmakers, some who have never ridden on one of our buses, the chance to see what we provide first-hand.”

The abbreviated round-trip, from Target in Dayville to the Killingly Public Library in Danielson, included U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, as well as several state senators and representatives and politicians representing towns in the transit district’s coverage area.

Murphy said getting a boots-on-the-ground view of issues facing region enables him to better advocate for specific causes, like the bus system.

“While that’s not going to mean specific money earmarked to open up a Plainfield bus route, I can make the case in Washington that what’s being done isn’t enough,” he said. “There’s a misconception that Connecticut isn’t a rural area, which many parts of the state are, which means I can pitch for those rural grant dollars.”

A plan to resurrect a long-shuttered bus line in Plainfield, which NECCOG officials said could lead to a New London-Windham counties connection, fizzled when state transportation funds weren’t approved this year.

Murphy said he was also shocked by news that more than half of 415 veterans surveyed in the region said they would use regionally funded transportation to get to their VA appointments if it was offered. Most of the veterans surveyed said they now rely on friends or family members to get VA hospitals in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The district provides roughly 50,000 rides through fixed routes running in Killingly, Brooklyn, Putnam and Thompson, as well as senior/disabled runs in several other towns. The service is funded through a combination of local, state and federal money.

“The biggest takeaway for me is to ask what we all here can do as a team to break down barriers to transportation services in the region,” state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly said. “There’s issues we can work to address, like how to make it easier for these buses to cross state lines and how to re-connect that Plainfield line.”

For Easow, the buses are an affordable, convenient alternative to cabs or ride-sharing.

“I would like to see longer evening service, which would help those workers and students who have night classes or work later shifts,” he said. “But overall, this is a wonderful system and one I depend on.”