Oct. 24 marked the beginning of an important new chapter in the history of Waterbury, as many gathered at Naugatuck Valley Community College to celebrate the first evening bus ride in Waterbury in 80 years. Bringing evening buses to Waterbury has been a long and enduring effort that has spanned decades and continued because of many caring and engaged community leaders and elected officials.
The deal was finally cemented by multiple efforts of community members, students, faculty, staff and administration at Naugatuck Valley Community College, and through the leadership of our elected and appointed officials in Hartford and the Department of Transportation. This pilot program is supported by a federal grant that provided the bulk of the dollars needed to make this happen.
The grant was designated for this purpose because NVCC student government conducted a referendum in academic year 2010-11 among students that resulted in a self-imposed student transportation fee to complete the financial package. This enabled our delegation to lobby for the necessary supplemental state support.
The arrangement will be in place for at least the next three years. NVCC students’ fees will go to the bus company into the fare box, so they are now entitled to an unlimited bus pass seven days per week, daytime and evenings.
This system (The U pass) has been in effect for only 60 days and already averages 600 rides per day.
Some have questioned the need for bus service in the evening; some appear unaware 20 percent of the households in Waterbury do not own a car and have been denied, de facto, access to the city and its institutions after 5:30 p.m. When a city continues to have severe and chronic unemployment, can we afford to ignore the needs of that 20 percent? Do the chances of that 20 percent to move upward, buy automobiles and become members of the middle class improve with better access to education and jobs? Is it right that state government should subsidize evening bus service in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport but not in Waterbury? I doubt many in Waterbury agree with that practice.
Evening bus service in Waterbury makes sense. Here are some considerations:
■ Enhanced bus service will reduce what transportation experts call “the mobility gap” between car owners and people who do not own cars, thus enabling lower-income people to get around more easily and efficiently.
This, in turn, has significant effects on the long-term labor market participation of those low-income people. This is particularly true if the bus service is going to be connecting clusters of unemployed people with centers of employment or education.
For the last 40 years, urban researchers have documented “the spatial mismatch,” wherein the poor and unemployed are separated geographically from access to jobs and educational opportunities, resulting in a lack of access because of a lack of mobility.
The additional mass-transit opportunities offered actually will have a tangible benefit to the overall economy of the city and should eventually have a positive impact on the unemployment rate.
■ Enhanced bus service will make the workforce of Waterbury more reliable and accountable in getting to work or school for two reasons. Buses will reduce the volume of cars on the road, so there will be less congestion and less possibility of a delay when there is an accident or breakdown. Also, low-income car owners often own older, unreliable cars. A bus will allow them to get to and from their place of employment or education.
Regardless of the causes, unanticipated delays in worker arrival hurt local business owners and the employees who may have their jobs threatened by lack of reliable attendance.
■ Public transportation and buses, in particular, tend to be cheaper than automobiles because the costs of driving include gasoline, parking costs and perhaps most critically, maintenance costs, which, again, are higher for lowincome people driving older cars than for wealthier people driving newer cars. Other significant costs include insurance premiums and Connecticut’s tax on automobiles.
If we believe in equality of opportunity, evening bus service is one of many small ways we can put that belief into practice.
Mass transit and public transportation are a part of the fabric of life in democratic societies. It is a credit to many in Waterbury that this basic concept of fairness has been enhanced with the institution of a much needed and deserved service for all of us who live in this beautiful city.
Daisy Cocco De Filippis is president of Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury.
De Filippis, Daisy Cocco. "Evening Bus Service Is Here At Last." Republican American [Waterbury, CT] 13 November 2011, Final Edition: A13.