Rail Travel: A Bold Step in the Right Direction

Proposed Free Train Fares

Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland
Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland

South Norwalk Switch Tower Museum

South Norwalk Switch Tower Museum on the corner of Washinton Street and North Main Street.
South Norwalk Switch Tower Museum on the corner of Washinton Street and North Main Street.

I would never have thought it possible, but Gov. John G. Rowland (of Connecticut) may have seen the light, or at least a few bright rays.

Apparently, he has had something of a metamorphosis when it comes to his views on public transportation.

Last year he caused quite a stir in our area when he proposed shutting down the Norwalk-Danbury rail line on grounds that its serves too few passengers. Fortunately, that proposal died in budget negotiations.

Free Train Fares Proposed

Now the governor has taken a far more enlightened position on public transportation. He recently proposed that train fares be free, or reduced, on a temporary basis in an effort to fill some of the 1,300 empty rail seats in Connecticut.

"Anything," Gov. Rowland said, "to encourage a new habit to be considered."

The governor also is talking up flex time for businesses to relieve traffic congestion in Hartford, restructuring of the electric industry and privatizing the state's computer system.

It's all part of the state Department of Transportation's 5-year plan to reduce traffic on I-95, the Merritt Parkway and Route 1.

A Step in the Right Direction

Rowland and his transportation department have taken a stuttering step in the right direction. Instead of mandating from on high what businesses should do to alleviate the state's highway congestion problems, they now -- better late than never -- seek a dialogue with business and environmental groups and ride-sharing agencies.

It's envisioned that the plan, which is expected to be released soon, will use a variety of incentives to lure people out of their cars and onto trains (offering free or half-off fares on Metro North's New Haven line) and rail parking expansion. The state is aiming to increase rail ridership, van pooling and carpooling.

Treat Commuters As Customers

Christopher Bruehl, president and chief executive officer of the Southeastern Area Commerce and Industry Association, hit the nail on the head when he was quoted as saying commuters need to be treated "more like customers who have choices rather than units who need to be shuttled on to a route."

While I'm not a fan of Gov. Rowland, I give him credit for taking a wise approach to public transportation which could, if followed up by further bold actions, put Connecticut in a leadership position on the national scene.

Free Rail Transportation

By virtue of the governor's proposal to make rail transportation free, or at least inexpensive for perhaps a 6-month period, Rowland acknowledges that the flawed policies of the past -- that of increasing fares when ridership or budgets turn down -- simply do not work.

But why not go all the way?

To make public transportation viable, we need to make it attractive to everyone!

Free Service Attracts Customers

If riding free for a few months will increase the number of rail -- or bus -- customers, then permanently free service will bring in new customers in droves.

Only good public transportation can motivate us and, ultimately, make it possible to shed our cars.

For the skeptics, free does not mean at no cost; it simply means paid for from general revenues rather than individual fares.

Note to those highbrows who believe public transportation is below their stature: Anyone old enough to have relied on the trolleys for getting around will tell you there's nothing better than good public transportation.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on March 21, 1998. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Metro North New Haven Line -- Danbury Branch Merritt 7

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Comments 10 comments

donnaleemason profile image

donnaleemason 8 years ago from North Dakota, USA

It may just relieve a little traffic congestion and decrease the amount of fuel being used also.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

That sure would be great, Donna. I just filled up my tank at $3.99 per gallon.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

William, Another hreat article!!

im a big fan of public transport and the only downside to this for me is travveling with drunk, undisirables, who smell, cough and splutter everywhere while eating their mc donalds or fish n chips!!

This is the onle reason i would rather take a car!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, compu-smart, for your very interesting comment.

I grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., when the trolley cars were a common form of transportation. We had very few undesirables riding the trolleys in those days. I believe that much of public transportation has been relegated to undesirables because our society pushes people to drive automobiles instead, leaving public transportation only to those who cannot afford automobiles. In my opinion, you would not find conditions such as you describe if public transportation were gven greater support by the government. As New York transit union leader Michael Quill said many years ago, public transportation should be free (that is, paid for out of general taxes) then everyone would not be forced to own a car and everyone would use trolleys, buses, subways, monrails, etc. because mass transit, where it exists, is the easiest and best way to get around.


kerryg profile image

kerryg 8 years ago from USA

That's good news indeed! I wish my state (Nebraska) would get its act together on public transportation.


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

Public transportation should replace private vehicles whenever possible. It would be a small step in a very long journey but at least it would be in the right direction.

By the way William, I was raised in Danbury! I lived in northern Connecticut for around forty years.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, kerryg. I'm with you 100 percent. I wish all states would start to think in a new direction. Public transportation is the way of the future.

They say a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, ColdWarBaby. We need to get started. My two brothers-in-law live in the Danbury-Bethel area. John is a runner and deeply involved with the Wolfpit Running Club, and Walter was a Bethel volunteer firefighter who is a huge racing fan. Too bad Danbury no longer has the Danbury Racearena. The stock cars were fun to watch -- but then you now have Stew Leonard's so all is not lost.


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

As a child, I used to listen through my open bedroom window to the stockers racing as I went to sleep on Saturday nights.

I haven't been to Connecticut in almost twenty years now. My sister and her husband are still in Bethel.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

William good points,

Regards to trains being completely free, here in the UK, it is something that is talked about but i doubt it will ever be a reality!!...I also know many people who have family, friends that live very far from each other, and because its the expense to travel, they have never seen for years and i doubt will ever again! and think if transport will never be free, then at least less extortionate prices!

When i said i would rather take a car!, i would if i could afford it!! ..Here in London, its just so expensive to buy, tax and insure vehicle, then the MOT, then, If you have to pay for a parking ticket to park outside your house ( if your not lucky enough to have a garage or driveway)..Then you have to pay to enter central London "congestion charge" daily..and pay to park everywhere! and Petrol is about $10.00 per gallon!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I visit friends in Connecticut occasionally, ColdWarBaby, but in the words of the old song, I "don't get around much anymore." I used to play Richter Park and Ridgefield Golf Course -- and the former Bethel Golf Course.

If public transportation were free, compu-smart, I think you'd find getting around on a trolley car or bus or monorail -- or even a golf cart -- would be easier, faster and more fun that driving around in Rolls Royce.

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