As New York City businesses reopens it’s expected that one million people will get back to work, some of them from Connecticut. But how they get to those jobs is the big question. While I’ve written for weeks that I expect many Nutmeggers will opt first for their personal automobiles, the resulting traffic mess will soon have them reconsidering a return to Metro-North and the city’s subways. The big issue, of course, is keeping everyone safe by maintaining social distancing and requiring face masks for all riders. More Trains and Subways
Metro-North has already expanded rush hour service by 26% over their scaled-back “essential service” levels.
You know those big brown trucks that are keeping us well-delivered during this time of COVID-19? Well, there’s some interesting history and tech to United Parcel Service, or UPS. Founded as the American Messenger Company in Seattle in 1907, the company made most of its deliveries back then to stores, not customers, and made them on foot or by bicycle. Adding a Model T to their fleet in 1913, the company started serving neighborhoods. By 1930 the company expanded to most cities in the East and Midwest, adding delivery by airline cargo partnerships to their modes of transportation.
In the post-COVID-19 world (whenever that may be) commuters will be asking themselves one question: Is this trip really necessary? Sure, when the quarantining is lifted and the life threatening virus seems to have passed (at least until it returns next fall), we may look forward to getting back on the train and on the crowded highways. But the weeks of not commuting have changed our attitudes toward work and the necessity of travel. Going forward, I think we will be making that daily trek a lot less often and that will have a profound effect on transportation. Sure, plumbers can’t telecommute, but knowledge workers can. And they make up a large portion of southwest Connecticut’s population. They’ve been working from home just fine in recent weeks. So they’ll be asking themselves (and their employers) if a daily schlep into their New York City office is really necessary, or if they can continue to work from home two or three days a week. Being self-employed, I have worked from my home office for over 35 years. I sure don’t miss the daily grind, nor the office politics, and love my work so I end up doing it six or seven days a week: it’s not a job but a passion.
The road ahead for commuters may be less crowded, or maybe more. One theory has it that, as people gradually return to work, they will shun mass transit out of safety concerns and commute, instead, by car. That could create problems on our roads if people try to drive five days a week. The other speculation is that the “new normal” will mean less commuting overall as people have found they can be just as productive from home and will commute less than the normal five days a week. Work hours may also be staggered, asking employees to go to their jobs every other day to avoid crowding in the office.
Our “aw shucks, golly” Governor seems to have a mean streak. While he probably deserves all the credit he’s getting for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, what he did recently at the Bond Commission seems uncharacteristically mean and vindictive. Somehow a promised $72 million investment in badly needed replacement rail cars for the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines of Metro-North got derailed as the item was deleted from the agenda. Those lines won’t be getting new cars anytime soon. What happened?
Have you ever taken a cruise? According to that industry, something like 28 million people worldwide took to the high seas last year. But that still leave 80% of Americans who have never cruised, enjoying the midnight buffets, spas and casinos at sea. Obviously, cruising has lost its allure since the megaships became epicenters of COVID-19 outbreaks, trapping passengers in their cabins for days as some ships searched for a port that would let them dock with their contagious human cargo. Even before the current pandemic cruise ships were notorious hotspots for simpler bugs like the norovirus which caused “acute gastrointestinal illness.” It’s hard to share a confined space like a ship without touching surfaces that harbor the virus.
The recent rebuilding of the Lake Avenue Bridge over the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich has earned Connecticut a new award. A state agency, nonprofit group and business which all cooperated on the project to rebuild the bridge, part of the Merritt Parkway National Scenic Byway, won the 2020 Byway Organization’s Leveraging Services Award bestowed by the National Scenic Byway Foundation project. — an announcement from the Merritt Parkway Conservancy on behalf of the organizations in the partnership
Cited for their collaboration were the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, and contractor Mohawk Northeast Inc.
Maintaining and repairing scenic byways, which are both transportation corridors and tourism and quality of life assets, often generate conflicts between competing missions of safety, efficiency and aesthetic stewardship among agencies responsible for their immediate upkeep and the communities who use them. “The next two generations of drivers on the Merritt will live with the way we treat it today,” Conservancy executive director Wes Haynes wrote to the foundation in appreciation for the award. “Returning this bridge to structural soundness and the way it looked when it was built in 1940 demonstrates that goals of safety, efficiency and aesthetics can be met through collaboration when everyone pulls in the same direction.”
The project required taking the bridge out of service to completely replace the structural steel.
I’ll admit it: I love driving fast. I’ve even been known to drive faster than 55 mph on I-95, but who hasn’t? (And I’ve never been given a ticket). When the road’s not crawling along bumper-to-bumper at rush hour, driving the speed limit almost seems unsafe, you’re getting passed so often. A couple of years ago I had a reporter “ride along” on I-95 with a state trooper.
“In my 30 years in the transit business I never thought I’d be asking people NOT to take the bus,” says Doug Holcomb, CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit, the operator of 57 buses carrying 5 million passengers a year. But not this year. Like most transit agencies, GBT is asking people to stay home and to ride their buses only if it is essential. So ridership on those buses has dropped 65%. On Metro-North the ridership is down 90 to 95%.
When it comes to transportation, Joe McGee is often the smartest guy in the room. If I want a vision of our state’s mobility future, he’s the first man I turn to. McGee served as then Gov. Lowell Weicker’s commissioner of economic development. For years I worked with him on the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council. And until recently he was the Fairfield Business Council’s vice president for public policy, specializing in the intertwined issues of transportation and economic development.
Starting Monday, April 13, Metro-North will operate on an hourly schedule on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Lines on both weekdays and weekends. — an announcement from Metro-North
The new, temporary schedule is in response to a reduction in ridership of more than 95 percent as customers in the region have honored stay-at-home orders as a precaution against COVID-19. We would like to remind customers that trains are running for healthcare workers, first responders and essential personnel only. If you don’t absolutely need to be traveling, please stay home. […]
Trains will operate hourly on the New Canaan Branch and every three hours on the Danbury and Waterbury Branches daily.
My usual beat is writing about transportation. And some of you, faithful readers, often tell me I’m too negative and cynical. That might be true. So how’s this for a change? We all know these are stressful times.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to work for the railroad? That’s what Paul Holland did for 39 years, first with Amtrak, later with Conrail and finally as a conductor on Metro-North. His self-published “My Life As A Rear End” pays tribute to his time in cabooses, but it’s his commuter rail stories that kept me laughing. Like the colorful crowd from the psychiatric hospital on the Harlem line who would escape — often in their pajamas — and ride his trains, obviously unable to pay. Or the many times he was assaulted by knife-wielding thugs only to be rescued by his 6-foot-7-inch cross-dressing frequent rider “Rocky.”
Over the years, Holland collected his stories, often scribbling them on seat checks.
With the passenger volume on Metro-North trains now down 94%, and volumes down an overall 90 percent on all Metropolitan Transportation Authority trains, subways or buses, the MTA, which includes Metro-North, announced Wednesday that it’s cutting back service, including restricting the New Haven Line schedule. The new schedule starts this Friday, March 27. Except at “peak” times, trains will be arriving at stations only once an hour, the MTA said. Preserving some transportation on trains and keeping peak commuting service roughly the same on most (but not all) New York City buses and subways will allow “the healthcare workers, first responders and essential personnel on the frontlines” to get to their jobs, the announcement said. Fewer trains will also make them safer for employees, the announcement pointed out.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson early Monday afternoon issued a town “State of Emergency” order that closes all town playgrounds, the buildings at both town train stations, winter Park & Recreation Department programs and “all nonessential municipal meetings.” After issuing a news release at 1:27 p.m., an additional release with more information was sent out at 2:06 p.m. Here is the longer, later version:
Sub headings and boldface have been added by Darienite.com:
First Selectman Declares State of Emergency for the Town of Darien Business and Public Facilities/Programs Closure Notice
At 2 p.m. today [Monday, March 16], in response to and in coordination with federal, state and local agencies, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson has issued a Town of Darien State of Emergency. This action has been taken to augment the Town’s response efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 and to underscore to the Darien community the seriousness of the virus crisis. State Level Actions
Beginning at 8 p.m. on Monday, March 16, Governor Lamont, in a coordinated action with the governors of New York and New Jersey, has ordered the temporary closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms, fitness centers and similar public exercise studios, and movie theaters. Restaurants and bars that serve food will be temporarily required to move to takeout and delivery service only.
You can’t beat the convenience of on-demand ride services like Uber and Lyft, but wouldn’t it be great if a similar ride-sharing service was available locally and for free? We’re not talking about existing ParaTransit services for the disabled or even some Connecticut communities’ senior transport services. No, the newest “microtransit” services are much more for the masses. Such a service has met tremendous success in Norwalk, and will soon launch in Westport and several other eastern Connecticut towns. In Norwalk
The Norwalk program is called Wheels2U and is run by the Norwalk Transit District using the agency’s paratransit minibus fleet.