Low ridership spurs bus officials to make changes

Saturday, September 27, 2008 6:57 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

After months of low ridership, officials want to rework the “R-Link” bus service connecting North Branford, Branford and North Haven.

The bus line, which began running in February, has failed to attract enough riders to make the service cost effective. Now the Greater New Haven Transit District, which operates R-Link, and the Council of Governments want to change the route in order to draw more customers.

Council of Governments Executive Director Judy Gott said that the new route would offer more options for people commuting to work and would focus on the Branford train station. Currently, the bus is geared toward people doing errands during the day, with stops along routes 22 and 139 at the Stop & Shop stores in Branford and North Haven and stores in the Northford section of North Branford.

“Because ridership has been very low, we’re going to try a new approach,” Gott said.

She added that she does not have specific ridership numbers, but that they have been lower than expected.

Gott noted that the shopping situation has changed since R-Link started running, with a Big Y supermarket opening in North Branford, possibly eliminating some people’s need to travel to different grocery stores.

“We’re evidently not hitting the mark on what people want, so we’re going to try to adjust that to meet what the citizens need,” she said. “We thought we could accommodate everyone — the shoppers, (people going to) the doctors and the train people — but we don’t have enough hours in the day or enough buses to do that, and we need to focus on one rather than spreading ourselves too thin.”

Gott said the new schedule will be oriented toward meeting the morning and evening trains at the Branford train station so that commuters can use the bus service.

Currently, riders have to transfer to another bus at the terminus of the R-Link line in order to reach the train station.

The regular fare for the service is $1.25. Along with the fixed route, bus drivers will also pick up and drop off at people’s homes — within three-quarters of a mile of the route — for an additional fee. R-Link operates Monday through Friday from about 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Gott said she hopes the changes to the schedule will be in place “within the next month or two.” In the meantime, she said, area residents may contact the Council of Governments to offer input on the service changes.

“We really had such a plea from North Branford folks that they wanted this service and really there’s very little usage from North Branford, and until we can figure out why we would welcome people to e-mail us or call us or do whatever and tell us why they’re not using that service,” she said.

In fact, North Branford Deputy Mayor Joanne Wentworth noted at a recent Town Council meeting that she has not seen many people using the service.

Despite the struggles with the current service, Gott said the transit district and Council of Governments are still looking to add similar regional transit options in area towns such as Woodbridge or Hamden.

“We hope that people will use the service,” she said. “We can expand it once people find how wonderful it is.”

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