Connecticut’s public agencies tasked with managing public transportation services are currently planning the future of transportation for the state. The state Department of Transportation is in the midst of a widespread campaign called Transform CT to solicit public input on its 50 year transportation plan. The Capitol Region Council of Governments will soon begin a comprehensive evaluation of bus lines in the Hartford region.
Both of these efforts touch the city of Hartford’s bus network. So what we do want? What kinds of things should we be asking for? When it comes to improving the bus system, this can be a complex and confusing question even for those of us who ride the bus daily. Many of us feel frustrated with the bus service in Hartford and can cite a litany of complaints—too many connections, no crosstown routes, lack of bus shelters, slow travel speeds and lengthy trips, poor service in the evenings. It’s a big list.
And yet every day (more so on weekdays) all these buses are out driving around the city, often filled with passengers, every single one of them either heading toward or away from downtown.
To get past this vague but overwhelming sense that we could use a better bus system here, we can take some cues from Jarrett Walker’s book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives. Walker suggests that we can start with two factors that affect the performance of a transit system—frequency and span.
Walker is a transportation planner and consultant, but he comes to transportation planning with a background in studying human cultures and languages rather than engineering or management. His is a book that pays close attention to language—for instance, Walker points out the problems with transit planners’ use of the term “captive” to describe people who are forced to use public transportation because they do not own a car. In another instance he argues that referring to transit “connections” is better than calling them “transfers” when one has to switch to a second bus on a given journey because the former sounds more positive.
Walker is known for being a champion for frequency—for more buses to run more often on a given line as the way to serve and attract more riders. (Other transit planners believe that the comfort and aesthetics of transportation vehicles is equally, if not more, important.) Frequency has become Walker’s rallying cry. “Frequency is freedom,” he exclaims. Walker’s argument is that the more often a bus comes to your bus stop matters even more than the average speed that your bus travels once you get going. This seems counter-intuitive, even irrelevant, for trips made with a car. With a personal automobile frequency is never an issue. The car is always there and ready to depart when you are. For bus travel, it’s the waiting that can really kill your sense of mobility. Continue reading 'When’s the Next Bus? The Future of Hartford’s Transit System'»