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Rail Travel: A Bold Step in the Right Direction
South Norwalk Switch Tower Museum
Proposed Free Train Fares
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.