Greater New Haven residents shared their opinions on fare increases for public transportation during a Department of Transportation hearing Wednesday.
Possible increases would raise one-way bus trips from $1.30 to $1.50, a 20-cent increase. That amount increase is applied to passes, as well, with a smaller increase of 10 cents for the elderly and disabled.
Many who spoke Wednesday were frustrated by the idea of a fare increase.
"I don't think most people have even the slightest idea how desperately poor some of our poor people are," said Elaine Kolb of West Haven. "I don't think most of the population has the slightest idea of what it's like to survive on something like supplemental security income."
Kolb, who spoke proudly from her wheelchair, described herself as a disabilities rights activist.
"When you talk about raising something like transportation, something that is basic, something that is part of the definition of being a human being ... a lot of our people, they're so poor that they're counting pennies to see if they can ride the bus one more time this month, because they have a lot more month than they have money," she said.
Ricardo Almeida, transit manager with DOT, said the department is sensitive to the needs of low-income populations.
"We know they are on a fixed income. So we need to, if we tweak this, we need to take in consideration to avoid the impact on that population," Almeida said. "We're trying to do the best we can with what we got."
He also said that, even with a possible rate increase to $1.50 per trip, users of public transportation in Connecticut would be paying less than others in the Northeast. He said Manchester, N.H.; Portland, Maine; and Boston have $1.50 fares, while Albany, Syracuse and Utica, N.Y., as well as Providence, R.I., have $2 fares.
Some speakers Wednesday took the opportunity to give the public transportation system a public dressing down.
Many spoke about late buses, rude bus drivers, loud music and cussing bus riders, but one New Haven man, who asked to be identified as L.B., said some of what happens on the bus is a little more serious than that.
He alleged that the New Haven Green, particularly around bus stops, is open shop for people selling stacks of monthly bus passes for cheaper than they cost from the state.
And along with those passes, he said people openly use drugs at bus stops and sell them on the bus and at bus stops.
Almieda said these allegations were unique to New Haven. DOT has held four such public hearings and he said this was the first time he had heard of activity like that.
One woman came out with a simple message of support for public transportation, and after giving it, ran out the door to catch the bus.
Dora Council, 78, of Hamden, said she had her first ride on a streetcar when she was five years old. As for the bus system today:
"I love it. So keep it up."
Michael Bellmore can be reached at 203-789-5282.
Copyright 2013 - New Haven Register, Conn.