MANCHESTER — Bus riders — and would-be riders — east of the Connecticut River will find out later this week just what kind of start-up service to expect from CTfastrak East.
The state transportation department will start small when it begins the extension of its CTfastrak bus rapid transit system this summer, probably with just one or two routes and limited frequency of bus runs.
The DOT is interested in eventually expanding its service in East Hartford and Manchester, and possibly running CTfastrak buses to Tolland, Vernon, South Windsor and other communities as well. But for the first year, the offerings will be much more limited.
The DOT will meet at Manchester Town Hall on Friday with municipal, university and business leaders from several east-of-the-river communities to introduce its tentative plan for service beginning late this summer. No decision has been announced yet about routes or schedules, but chances appear good that opening day will include regular bus runs linking downtown Hartford and the UConn campus at Storrs.
DOT planners are spending several days this winter at UConn, talking with students and staff workers about the best way to introduce public transit to Hartford.
The campus is far from the city, and no highway goes there directly: Any route requires driving on two-lane roads with relatively low speed limits and plenty of traffic lights. Parking is at a premium all over the massive campus.
The DOT believes that regular service to Hartford and the main CTfastrak busway would give students and staff a convenient, affordable way to get to and from Greater Hartford — and beyond if they use connecting bus routes to Waterbury, Cheshire, Bristol or elsewhere.
The DOT's plan is to add more routes, more buses and more amenities over the next few years. But planners have emphasized from the beginning that the first year or two will be only a modest start.
The entire CT Transit and CTfastrak fleets are booked solid at rush hour, according to the DOT, so any new service at peak periods would require leasing buses from private contractors. Planners hope to order additional buses in 2017 or 2018; with its own fleet, the agency can ensure onboard Wi-Fi, announcements about each next stop and other amenities that CTfastrak riders get.
At off-peak hours, it would be possible to run a very limited number of CT Transit or CTfastrak buses on one or perhaps two new routes, the DOT has said.
The plan is for new CTfastrak East service to use highway HOV lanes. On secondary or local streets, there might be special lanes for buses, or perhaps traffic signalization priority available for them. A central goal to bus rapid transit is a faster ride than the often-plodding trips that regular transit buses make; the rapid transit lines make far fewer stops along each route.
Goodwin College, Manchester Community College, Pratt & Whitney, and shopping plazas in South Windsor have all expressed interest in getting CTfastrak East routes that could serve workers, customer and students.