Rant & Rail: Transportation and the Budget

Train budget cut; bus fares may rise

Budget Day 2013: Transportation Update
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Budget Day 2013: Transportation Update

 

Governor Malloy’s proposed budget includes some bad news for commuters, including bus-riders. Some transportation advocates say Malloy is cutting too much money at a time when transit ridership is at an all-time high and infrastructure is crumbling. 

A ride on the public bus costs $1.25 right now. Under Malloy’s plan, it’ll go up to $1.50 starting in 2014. That should raise about $4 million next year. For riders with disabilities that prevent them from riding regular public transit, they’ll have to pay 4% more to ride what are known as paratransit vans provided for them under federal law. That doesn’t make Republican Representative Gail Lavielle of Wilton very happy. But this is what bothers her the most.

“If you are collecting money off rail and bus fares, that money should be used for rail and for buses," she says. 

It’s not clear if that’s true under Malloy’s new budget. Connecticut technically has what’s called a Special Transportation Fund dedicated to transportation funding. It’s about $1.2 billion. But in recent years the state has taken money out of it to plug the general budget hole. This year it’s doing the same thing to the tune of about $75 million. Malloy’s proposing doing this two days after Lavielle actually suggested a new law converting the fund into a kind of “lock box.”

She says, if we keep taking money out of the fund, “I fear for the consequences. We have trains that are unsafe, we have bridges that are unsafe.”

Malloy’s budget calls for borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to finance new construction infrastructure projects. And transportation advocates have supported the money going into the new New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line and the Hartford to New Britain busway. But the state’s current transit systems, like Metro-North, don’t appear to be getting any more money for badly-needed upgrades. And House Republican Leader Larry Cafero is concerned that the state is borrowing so much more money.

“It is a massive amount of borrowing, and our kids and grandkids are going to have to pay that bill," he says. 

Lawmakers have proposed dozens of transportation bills that would require improvements on Metro-North. But finding money for them in this budget seems like a long shot.