By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington Town Council heard a presentation from Cara Radzins last Tuesday, and the principal transit planner at the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) introduced preliminary plans for public transportation through the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) in Southington. No action was taken following the presentation, but a public hearing will be scheduled as the discussion continues.
According to preliminary plans, the bus route would enter Queen Street from the Plainville-Southington town line with a suggested bus stop in the area of Queen Plaza. The bus would then turn down W. Queen Street and return to Bristol on West Street without further stops. The owner of Queen Plaza, RK Southington, has not yet been consulted about the placement of the stop, whether it be in the parking lot or on the street.
The only bus route that currently provides service to town is CTFastrak’s Southington-Cheshire Express, a direct line to the New Britain-Hartford express service with stops in the Plantsville and Milldale commuter lots. But there is no bus access on the north end of town.
“We did an analysis of the Hartford division of CTtransit when the regional boundary expanded to include New Britain, Berlin, Bristol, Plainville and Southington,” said Radzins. CRCOG is a partner of CTDOT for this project. The DOT ultimately owns the project and will make the decisions. “The market analysis shows there is transit potential here based on the composite of jobs and population per-acre.”
Radzins said the transit need is also based on numbers of low income individuals, elderly, and people under the age of 18, which tend to use transit at a higher rate.
“The DOT isn’t in the business of shoving service down people’s throats where there’s not a desire to have it. It’s not in their best interest to fight a town if the town doesn’t want it,” said Radzins. “Southington is the most populated town in the state without a bus route service. This is not a tiny town, and there is a valid need for [transit], and the DOT recognizes that.”
She continued to say the DOT also recognizes that there hasn’t always been, and still may not be, enough of a desire to get public transit in town, and if that’s the case, the idea will sit on a shelf until there is a change in that.
CRCOG did a number of various analyses and came up with two possible scenarios for transit routes. They then took the two scenarios and held a series of public input sessions across the regional boundaries, which included online surveys, informational meetings, and on-the-scene meetings where representatives would stand at existing bus stops with information about the proposed scenarios and ask riders what they would prefer.
The preferred scenario, which was presented to the council, came forth after public input had been considered. The project would be cost-neutral, Radzins said.
There is currently a local route that runs through Bristol and a Fastrak route right alongside it. When Fastrack was implemented, the DOT left the local route in place in order to compare the ridership between the two. By eliminating the local route and just running the Fastrak, there are “significant savings,” according to Radzins, which would allow for the DOT to add the Southington route.
Cost estimates at the DOT are based on operating hours and number of vehicles, and Radzins said the two versions “are awash” when it comes to cost.
Radzins on behalf of CRCOG and CTDOT recommended grandfathering in a paratransit service alongside the regular transit service. A paratransit service is available for residents to apply for who live within three-quarters of a mile of the transit service’s route. It is a small bus, similar to the Calendar House’s buses, which is available for those who are unable to ride on the standard transit service. The paratransit service will travel anywhere along the transit service’s route.
The CTtransit buses and paratransit buses are handicapped accessible and include ramps for wheelchair, walker, and stroller access.
The council had several questions and requests for specific information following the presentation. In the coming weeks, council members will send questions to Keith Hayden, public works director, who will forward them to Radzins. Radzins will return to the council with further information. A public hearing will be set for a future meeting prior to a vote by the council.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.