Jim Cameron (Courtesy of the author)

CTDOT Fare Hearings

"Getting There," a column on transportation by Jim Cameron

Our state government certainly moves in mysterious ways.

The Connecticut legislature seems unable to even discuss the crucial replenishing of the Special Transportation Fund to keep mass transit rolling… but they found hours to debate the merits of declaring pizza the “official state food”.  Really?

Kudos to the nine lawmakers who voted “no”, not because they don’t like pizza but because they saw this issue as a waste of time.

Also in the “waste of time” category were the recent series of virtual public hearings (May 18, 19, 20 & 25) by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.  The topic… service reductions on Metro-North and CT Transit that have already been implemented.

Twelve mind-numbing hours of Zoom hearings were planned, accompanied by hundreds of pages of legally mandated reports and analysis.  I can’t even imagine the hours of work that went into their preparation, and for what?

There are no fare increases planned and no further cuts in service beyond what was ordered months ago.  So why are they having public hearings on a moot issue?  In fact, if Metro-North gets its dreams fulfilled and ridership returns, schedules will have to be adjusted again, potentially triggering more hearings.

If the decisions have been made, why ask the public their opinion after the fact?  Does anybody really think that anything that gets said at these hearings will evoke a change of plans by CDOT or Metro-North?  

There has been one silver lining to the pandemic:  it’s got state government using virtual platforms like Zoom to better engage with the public. It used to be that you’d waste a day driving to the Capitol in Hartford, sitting through hours of others’ testimony and finally get your three minutes to speak.  Now you can attend the political theater of meaningless hearings without leaving the comfort of your own home.

To their credit some legislative committees held 24 hour-long hearings on such important issues as mandatory student vaccinations and forced re-zoning, allowing hundreds of voices to be heard.  But again, let’s not be naïve enough to assume that anyone’s testimony changed votes.

Sure, attending, watching or (if you were lucky enough) testifying on these matters may have been cathartic, but they didn’t change a darn thing.  Lawmakers were only going through the motions, just like CDOT will do in this case.

But here’s an idea: attend these virtual hearings and register to speak.  Not about these already-decided matters about fares and schedules, but about anything you’d like to say related to commuting.

Use your three minutes to ask why Metro-North is still running its trains slower than it did a decade ago.  Query the Commissioner of DOT about what happened to Governor Lamont’s illusory plan known as “30-30-30”.  Ask why Metro-North conductors aren’t enforcing Federal rules on mask wearing to keep passengers safe.  Or how long the railroad can keep operating with 20% ridership and who’s going to pay the bills.

There are so many questions that could be asked.  Don’t expect answers.  These are public hearings, not a dialogue with decision makers.  Officials will be in listen-only mode, probably chanting some secret mantra to fend off the verbal barbs and anger of those testifying.

These hearings won’t change anything, but they may make for fun viewing and a chance to vent your frustration.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

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