BRIDGEPORT — I'm in the midst of that great American institution, waiting for jury duty, which is unparalleled not only in creating boredom but in giving you time to think. And what I'm thinking about is the state of public transportation in Connecticut.
As a regular business traveler to New York, I benefit greatly from having the brand-new Fairfield Metro station only a few miles from my home. I love it, but I have some issues with the way the station is operated. Really, a serpentine entrance marked by easy-to-knock-over orange cones? And what about the weird payment system involving handing cash to attendants either sitting in their cars or occupying a makeshift trailer?
It may be that one of the Fairfield stations gets a big solar installation and electric car charging, just like Westport's, but that's another story. For the most part, the trains operated by Metro North aren't as modern and clean (despite some new cars) as is commonplace in Europe, and they're nowhere near as fast, but they operate reasonably often and — the big derailment aside — have a good safety record.
Really, we're lucky to have Metro North — most American commuters don't have access to any trains. The service is vital for a state with as crowded a transportation corridor as Connecticut. And how often have you ridden a train that wasn't crowded to the exit doors?
I strongly disagree with the steady buzz of voices that call for an end to train subsidies because the lines fail to achieve a profit. It's a given that commuter rail loses money, but it's hugely valuable in keeping thousands of drivers off I-95 and Route 15 and improving the quality of life for the working public. In truth, all the extra productivity resulting from people getting to the office on time should be factored into any arithmetic about the effectiveness of trains.
As a longtime I-95 sufferer, I know what it's like to be stuck in rush hours that long ago stopped being an hour — how about two or three? In Connecticut, traffic builds by 1.5 to two percent annually, but the roads aren't getting any wider (and kazillion-dollar expansions or decking projects are going nowhere).
The Fairfield Metro project took an agonizingly long time to come to fruition, but it's one of the few bright spots in recent Connecticut transit. What's needed now is two-fold: More commuters getting to work by train (which would probably require better parking at the stations), and effective car- and van-pooling to mirror networks that flourished in the 1970s. Companies such as Perkin Elmer are to be commended for leading in this area.