If there is one public transport project in Connecticut that people love to hate, it is CTfastrak.
CTfastrak is what is known as a bus rapid transit (BRT) system between Hartford and New Britain, as it features its own busway separate from the rest of the road network and railway-like stations along its route. Aside from frequent Hartford-New Britain service, there is also a CTfastrak route to Bristol and Plainville using the civil road network after New Britain. The busway not only serves CTfastrak routes, but other CTtransit express services as well, such as bus routes 923 (the Bristol Express) and 928 (the Southington-Cheshire-Waterbury Express)..
CTfastrak functions like any other BRT system — better than many, in fact — as it is one of only two in the United States to receive a “silver” rating, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
For all its successes, it seems that whenever CTfastrak gets brought up, two responses fill the air: “CTfastrak? What a waste of money!” and “Pfft… the buses are empty! Nobody uses it!”
Was CTfastrak a waste of money? Well, we have to go back to the start of the project, furtherback than many people realize. In 1999 the Hartford West Major Investment Study was completed, attempting to posit a solution to the lack of meaningful transit options beyond Hartford and combat congestion along Interstate 84. The original ideas laid out at the beginning of the study ranged from as little as a high-occupancy vehicle lane on I-84 to as much as creating a commuter rail line all the way to New Britain.
The final suggestion to the state though was to construct a New Britain-Hartford busway with feeder bus routes in New Britain, Newington and West Hartford, as well an express route on Route 72 to Plainville and Bristol.
The original plan did not give any timeline for when the busway should be built, only stating that it would increase transit ridership and decrease congestion by 2020. Two years later, the state embraced the plan for the busway, stating in the December 2001 executive summary that 2004 would be the opening year.
Was 2004 the opening year? No. Did we get a busway when Jodi Rell was governor? No, we certainly did not. Like many projects, this one dragged its feet on and on as the years rolled by. Although the Department of Transportation had the plan in the back of its mind and published reports every couple of years on its projected feasibility, nothing ever began.
With an infusion of new federal grants, construction finally began eight years after the planned opening. In 2015, you could finally board a green bus and get to New Britain at 6 p.m. without getting trapped in traffic — even if it did take 16 years to go from proposal to opening.
It is true that the New Britain-Hartford busway/CTfastrak absorbed more money than was originally projected would be needed. Is this a reason to completely reject CTfastrak or BRT systems in general? Of course not! One of the most publicized funding sinkholes in recent years was the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Stadium in Hartford for the Yard Goats baseball team, yet unlike CTfastrak, I don’t think I have ever heard someone proclaim baseball as useless since the stadium cost more than it should have.
Financial mismanagement and a lack of motivation to build should be the aspects of CTfastrak to dislike, not the system itself. If your notion is still that the project was a waste, consider that contrary to popular belief, CTfastrak is a highly-used system.
It is true that not every bus is filled to the brim with riders, but that is not a bad thing. CTfastrak is one of the most frequent bus routes in Connecticut, as it offers a whopping 110 weekday departures from Hartford alone, solely on Route 101, according to CTtransit. In my experience using the system while going to Central Connecticut State University, no bus I ever took was empty — whether it be at 5:30 in the morning or 11 at night, there were always some people on board at non-peak hours. During peak hours the buses were always busy, but never completely full. The fact that not every bus is filled is not an indication of a lack of ridership, but rather that the service is extremely frequent – never letting a crowd build at a station.
For people without cars, CTfastrak is an extremely useful system, as it means bus riders don’t have to wait in car traffic on the highway or wait until an awful hour to get a quick ride home. If you have a car and a knack for avoiding congestion, good for you. But for those who don’t, CTfastrak needs to be accepted for what it is: A good public transport system.