U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a representative for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, state Sen. Mae Flexer, and state Reps. Anne Dauphinais, Danny Rovero, and Patrick Boyd, and town officials from Killingly, Plainfield, and Thompson took a bus tour compliments of the Northeastern Connecticut Transit District, on Nov. 21.
The short tour and presentation highlighted the state of public transit in northeastern Connecticut. The goal was to foster discussions about existing services, challenges, and future proposals, said NECCOG Executive Director John Filchak.
The NECTD provides approximately 50,000 rides annually, with a deviated fixed route service and a dial-a-ride for elderly and disabled persons.
The elderly and disabled service provides door-to-door service and is available seven days per week, by reservation. Residents of Brooklyn, Canterbury, Killingly, Putnam, Thompson, Eastford, Plainfield, Pomfret, Woodstock, and Union can take advantage of the transportation service.
The deviated fixed route service operates Monday through Sunday, but serves far fewer towns.
Bus drivers can travel up to 3/4 mile outside of the fixed route to drop off passengers. A green route operates 10 runs a day and serves Killingly and Brooklyn. A blue route operates eight runs a day and serves Putnam. Shuttles connecting Thompson, Putnam, and Killingly run eight times a day. A weekend service connects Killingly, Putnam, and Thompson in four separate runs.
But shortcomings in service mean no evening hours, long travel times between stops, and infrequent runs.
There's a need for public transportation, according to Hoween Flexer, regional services director for the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments. Survey results released by NECCOG showed that 80 percent of nearly 200 riders surveyed had no other access to vehicles.
Respondents said they used the buses for shopping, medical appointments, work, and social services primarily.
The Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments administers the transit service at a cost of $130,000 annually. Operating costs for the service amount to $739,000.
Murphy called it one of the leanest operators of public transportation in the state.
Beyond limited service to area towns, there is a lack of connections west and south to other state transit districts. This has impacted students attending Quinebaug Valley Community College, Flexer said.
QVCC's Willimantic campus has moved, and some classes that had been offered there are now being offered in Danielson. Students who need to use public transit to travel between the two towns have two runs to choose from, a morning run and a late afternoon run.
The district is also investigating how to make connections north into Massachusetts and east into Rhode Island. The survey showed more than 200 area veterans would use public transportation to travel to VA appointments in Providence if it were available.
"The entire region needs more service," said Murphy. "It's a real problem for the people who live here."
NECTD officials proposed the establishment of a Plainfield route that would have cost approximately $84,000 annually. In late April 2017, they learned that the state would not fund the application for service.
Plainfield would have borne 17 percent, or a little more than $14,000, for the run. The state and federal government would have picked up 33 and 50 percent, respectively.
Department of Transportation Transit Administrator Dennis Solensky said the Plainfield route was among a number of requests that were tabled due to the state's budget situation.