Where the heck has the Connecticut legislature been for the past few months? With so many pressing issues, why haven’t they met? Oh, they’ll tell you it’s because of safety that they couldn’t convene. But we know better. Plenty of state legislatures — even the U.S. House of Representatives — have carried on the people’s business virtually or well-masked while our pols went AWOL.
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.
When coronavirus hit us this spring, more than just our normal rail commuting patterns were disrupted. One young entrepreneur’s business simply imploded, but now he’s coming back, stronger than before. Joe Colangelo is founder and CEO of Boxcar, the New Jersey-based company that bills itself as the “Airbnb of parking,” matching commuters with empty parking spots near train stations in Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Stratford. Before COVID-19, his business was red hot. But by early March he knew it was doomed as people stopped commuting and demand for parking evaporated.
Effective Monday, June 15, Metro-North Railroad has increased train service on the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Lines. The increase in service is due to a steady growth in ridership in response to the Phase 1 reopening in New York state. — an announcement from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The new schedule will provide a 115% increase in peak service from the May 27 schedule, with several trains added in the morning and afternoon peak periods. We will continue to provide hourly service during off-peak periods, on middays, evenings, late nights, weekends and holidays. SEE ALSO: ‘I’m Desperate for a Reason To Be Bullish on Mass Transit … I Don’t See Any’: Cameron on Transportation (June 15)
During this special schedule, off-peak fares will continue to be in effect.
Post-coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont predicts the end of daily commuting as we know it. Lamont told Bloomberg that his New York business buddies tell him they’re saving so much money by having people work from their homes they may cut office space in the city by 30 percent. “The old idea of the commuter going into New York City five days a week may be an idea that’s behind us,” Lamont said. “Maybe you have a great job that seems to be geographically located in New York City, you can do it two-thirds of the time from your home in Stamford.”
Or maybe you don’t need to ever go into the city. Twitter has told its tech workers they can work from home forever, assuming they can stand it. That means more time with the family and a lot less time and money spent on the train.
Effective Wednesday, May 27, Metro-North is increasing service on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Lines as the Mid-Hudson region is expected to begin Phase 1 of reopening. — an announcement from Metro-North (with non-New-Haven-Line information removed)
The expanded service represents an overall increase of 26% in peak train availability since our essential service went into effect on April 13. Metro-North will also have 14 protect trains strategically positioned at major facilities to operate additional service as may be necessary. You can access the amended schedule online at New.MTA.Info. For train times, and real-time arrival and departure times on your phone, download TrainTime.
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.