Does Southington need public transportation?
If you go to the Connecticut Department of Transportation website and click on “Central CT local system map,” you will see a big chunk of central Connecticut with colored lines showing the various bus routes. There’s Hartford, West Hartford, Farmington; there’s New Britain, Plainville, Bristol; there’s Cromwell, Berlin, Middletown, Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire.
But what about Southington? It’s a blank area on the map because there’s nothing to show, other than two park-and-ride locations, one each in Plantsville and Milldale. That’s it.
But that may not be it forever, if (and it’s a very big if) the state goes through with a proposal to reroute an underused Bristol bus route through northern Southington. That would do nothing for the downtown area, but it would at least provide service to one key location by making a stop on Queen Street at the Bob’s Furniture Plaza.
The DOT is studying the idea, following a unanimous vote by the Town Council. The Capitol Region Council of Governments saw a need for something like this after it did a study in 2016.
But the town itself is divided.
“You can’t get out of our town without a car,” said Nancy Chiero, a retired special education teacher and a founder of Southington Supports Public Transportation. “I think it’s really unfair to those people who are disabled or who don’t drive to trap them in our town.”
Republican Town Councilor Michael Riccio sees it differently, favoring a private-sector solution such as vouchers that could be used for ride services such as Uber or Lyft.
It’s a conundrum for this state, much of which is thinly settled outside the major urban areas, and where people in the suburbs may forget that not everyone has a car. Thus we see those blue DOT buses, sometimes running nearly empty, while many people who work in the businesses along our busy commercial strips have no direct way of getting to and from work.
And geography can also conspire to make the bus system look irrational: New Britain and Meriden are connected by a purple line that runs along the Chamberlain Highway — which is almost entirely rural or residential in character and therefore logically must provide very few riders — while Southington’s main commercial strip, lined with the big and small stores of Queen and North Main streets, has no service at all.
Town leaders still have questions about details, such as where bus stops will be located, but the Council did support the state studying the issue. Some at Town Hall are also loath to have some kind of service imposed by the state, without local input.
But that fear is probably premature. All that’s been decided so far is for the DOT to study the issue, and so far there seems to be adequate communication between the state and the town.
Taking a hard look at what the options are makes good sense.