Sen. Murphy says mass transit needs more federal funding

By:  Mary O'Leary
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy found that if you are catching a bus in New Haven, you have to take that published schedule seriously.

Just a little late for the 2 p.m. bus, Murphy, with a small entourage of aides and New Haven officials Friday, had to hang out for awhile to catch the next B bus from downtown up Whalley Avenue.

“It was so on time, it left without us,” Murphy, D-Conn., said of their journey to the Edge of the Woods, a natural food market.

Their journey was a way to publicize the city’s Go NewHaven Go project to encourage the public to walk, bicycle, take a bus or train, rather than driving a car.

Murphy said the Connecticut Transit bus was packed before rush hour.

“You can see the demand for transit all along this corridor in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday,” he said, putting New Haven in the context of the larger regional demographic.

The Greater New York region, which extends from New Haven to New York City and includes upper New Jersey, accounts for four out of ten mass transit trips in the country.

“Isn’t that remarkable,” Murphy said.

“We need more help from the federal government,” Murphy said. His biggest criticism was that the bill currently being debated does not have enough money for mass transit.

“We need cleaner buses, we need more buses and we need more inner-city service,” Murphy said.

The senator said one person he met on the bus worked in Milford at the Whole Foods Market, which takes 45 minutes each way.

He said the bus service should be faster.

“This market is a regional assets, not just a city asset,” Murphy said of Edge of the Woods, which has been in New Haven for the past 37 years.

“You should be able to get here not just from the town Green. You should be able to get here easily from West Haven, Guilford and Bridgeport,” he said.

On small businesses, he said they are credited with bringing back 90 percent of the jobs lost in the 2008 recession. He said however, that it is still too hard for them to access capital.

“Capital is too tight, federal lending standards are still too strict,” he said. “If we are going to survive as a state and as a country economically,” the senator said, we have to make lending easier.

Murphy said he will hop on a bus for a 45-minute to an hour ride everytime he comes back to Connecticut, just to check in with the public.

“When you ride the bus, you don’t hear about anything that is on MSNBC, CNN or Fox News,” told a small group gathered at the store. “You hear the same things all the time. You hear about jobs, schools, safety and housing. Those four things ... but you don’t talk about Donald Trump. You don’t talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails ... Nobody on the bus was worried about the Republican presidential primary,” Murphy said.

“They talk about real life stuff. They talk about how to make their budget work for the next week,” he said.

Peter Dodge, who has owned and run the Edge of the Woods for 37 years, asked whether an increase in the federal minimum wage was coming.

Murphy said it is important to have a federal floor on the wage issue and he supports it so other states will come closer to Connecticut’s minimum wage.

“Fifteen seems pretty high,” Dodge remarked.

Murphy said he supports a $12 minimum wage “understanding that it is still a journey for us at the federal level.”

He told Dodge he will send him material on how the $15 rate in Los Angeles and Seattle has boosted its economy because the money increases the spending power of low-wage earners.

Dodge asked how often Murphy gets back to Connecticut. He said he comes back at least every weekend and sometimes more often.

“I love this job. I know there are a lot of challenges we have to face and overcome here in Connecticut. Just like you have to be an optimist to be a small businessman today, you have to be an optimist in government today,” the senator said. “I definitely see this in New Haven.”

On an international issue, Murphy was hugely disappointed with the lack of a sizeable commitment from the U.S. to welcome Syrian refugees.

“If Germany is taking in 800,000 and we are taking 10,000, we really can’t say that we are helping in a meaningful way with a straight face,” he said.

“I just don’t know how the United States watches little toddlers die just because we refuse to put up a relatively small amount of money to vet more than a handful thousand,” he said.

He said the Syrian train and equip program to create a moderate fighting force is a complete failure and the $500 million used for that should be shifted to refugee resettlement. He said this would also put the necessary structure in place to screen 50,000 people.

During Vietnam, the U.S. took in 190,000 refugees; in the Bosnian wars, it welcomed 170,000.

“The U.S. has a history of stepping up and for some reason we are not doing it now,” Murphy said.

He said the Republican presidential candidates are split and it is not a foregone conclusion that the GOP in Congress would vote against a relief package.

As they are in the middle of budget preparation, Congress would have to amend it with humanitarian aid, he said.