BRISTOL — If you ride public buses regularly anywhere in Connecticut don’t be surprised if a familiar-looking man sits next to you sometime and says, “Hi, I’m Sen. Chris Murphy.”
“It’s funny, almost every interaction follows a pattern,” said Murphy, who makes an effort to hop on a local bus to talk to passengers whenever he gets a break from Washington, D.C.
“At first, most people are surprised and a little hesitant to talk, but it only takes a few minutes for them to open up,” he said. “Almost without exception people are very willing to talk to you about their ideas for how to make their town a better place. It’s a great way to stay in touch with average people.”
On Friday afternoon, Murphy rode the CTfastrak 502 bus from the stop in front of Bristol City Hall to downtown New Britain.
“What’s interesting is nobody talks to me about what is making the headlines on cable news,” he said. “People talk about what really matters in their lives. I hear about jobs, housing and education over and over again.”
“One guy told me that he is making $13 an hour and he can barely survive on that amount in Connecticut. Another young man told me that he dropped out of high school because he kept on getting suspended for minor infractions and he decided to just give up,” Murphy said.
The man’s school problem touched a nerve with Murphy. “This is an issue I’m very passionate about — pressing schools to move away from exclusionary discipline, like suspensions and expulsions,” he said.
Murphy said he has worked to include language in the reform of the No Child Left Behind law to force schools to reduce the amount of exclusionary discipline that they use.
“It was very interesting to talk to a young man who had borne the consequences of a school that he went to — New Britain High School — that was too quick to suspend him for being tardy or skipping class. It didn’t cause him to start showing up to school, it drove him out,” he said.
“Part of the experience of riding the bus for me is getting inspiration to work harder on issues that I already care about,” Murphy said.
He talked with two passengers who were concerned about what should happen at the big parking lot in downtown Bristol.
“One thought the city should move some of its public buildings over to that site. I’m not sure that that’s entirely practical, but that was his proposal,” Murphy said.
“The other gentleman was just very frustrated with the slow pace of change,” he said. “Unfortunately, he was skeptical that anything was going to happen, but it just proves to me that people in Bristol are interested in getting the downtown redevelopment on the right path.”
Another man talked about the bus route itself, Murphy said. “He was concerned that a few stops along the bus were positioned in unsafe areas. I got him to give me the locations and I’m going to follow up on that with the Connecticut transit authority.”
The half-hour ride was fairly lightly populated, so Murphy said he got to talk with almost everyone on the bus.
“Normally I’ll have a dozen to two dozen conversations. Today I probably talked to a half dozen people,” he said. “I’ll probably do it a number of times this fall. I probably end up riding the bus about 10 times over the course of a year.”