In an effort to improve transportation equity, Noah Kahan ’19 is currently proposing new public transportation initiatives to the University.
If successfully passed, Connect Middletown, and by proxy Kahan, will serve to link the city of Middletown with the wider Connecticut region via M-Link Express & the CTRail Hartford Line.
The Connect Middletown information sheet prepared by Kahan points out the dearth of easily accessible public transportation within Middletown. This leads to a heavy reliance on driving cars, and services such as Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar.
“Connect Middletown seeks to revitalize the M-Link service, a route serviced by Middletown Area Transit (MAT),” the sheet reads. “This proposal strives to enhance Middletown’s connection to the wider region by keeping local M-Link service in place and launching M-Link Express, a modified route that will provide a faster ride to Meriden Rail Station.”
Though the Meriden Rail Station is not heavily utilized by Wesleyan students, a new commuter rail service—the CTRail Hartford Line—will begin to pass through the station this spring, connecting it to New Haven and Hartford, along with Springfield, Mass.
“If the prospect of M-Link Express succeeds, Middletown will be closer than ever for the millions of people who use the Northeast Corridor rail network,” the information sheet reads. “The M-Link Express will allow residents, students, and visitors to more easily access all that the region has to offer in an affordable and sustainable way.”
As of now, Kahan foresees the M-Link Express route connecting Middlesex Community College (MxCC) in Middletown, the Main Street Downtown Bus Terminal, the University’s own Fisk Hall, the Middletown Plaza (home to Price Chopper, Staples, Starbucks, and more), the Meriden Rail Station, and Middlesex Community College at Platt High School.
“If this proposal is implemented, traveling to and from Middletown to commute and visit places in the region will be possible without the expense and hassle of car ownership, which is inaccessible to elderly residents, many students and low-income individuals,” the sheet reads. “In addition, the frequent use of rideshare (Uber, Lyft) and taxi services are unaffordable and unsustainable for many students and residents in the region.”
Inspired by U-Pass programs at other public colleges and universities in Connecticut, as part of the Connect Middletown plan, Kahan is advocating the implementation of a similar program at the University.
“Students who attend public colleges or universities in the state of Connecticut, pay a $20 transportation fee (per semester) for a ‘U-Pass’ as part of tuition,” the info sheet reads. “The U-Pass allows students to get free access to any Connecticut public bus, including CTFastrak and CT Transit Express, or on Metro-North up until the train crosses into New York state, as well as access to the upcoming CTRail Hartford Line.”
Students frequently post on the Facebook page WesRides in search of rides to and from the New Haven train station. Often, the students who are trying to get to New Haven are planning on taking Metro North to New York City. Kahan describes U-Pass as something that would save money for students attempting to make this trip.
“For Metro North, students can take the New Haven Line for free up until Greenwich, CT, at which time they would need to pay $10.25 (one-way, off peak) for the rest of the trip to Grand Central,” the info sheet reads. “This saves students $7.25, from the regular price from New Haven, which is $17.50 (one-way, off peak). Students can pay for the rest of their trip via the MTAeTix app, available on Android and IPhone.”
Additionally, if a U-Pass program were to be implemented at Wesleyan, students who buy in would have access to key systems such as CTtransit statewide (including CTtransit Express and CTfastrak), 9 Town Transit (which goes between Middletown and places on the shorelines such as Old Saybrook and Essex), Middletown Area Transit, and the aforementioned CTrail Hartford Line.
Although Kahan has taken control of this project and its implementation, the idea of promoting transit equity at Wesleyan began with Alex Garcia ’17. Garcia had proposed the concept of having Wesleyan collaborate with the Middletown Area Transit in the hope that students might be able to more easily get to places like the Middletown Plaza and Main St.
According to Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Director Makaela Kingsley ’98, Garcia got the idea for this project when he enrolled in the Patricelli Center Fellowship (CSPL 264/265) in September 2016.
“[Garcia] was studying transit equity broadly, specifically as it relates to future business models for autonomous vehicles,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus. “In the course of his journey, he became interested in public transportation in Middletown and the surrounding areas.”
Kingsley has served as Kahan’s advisor as he has picked up this project where Garcia left off.
“Because it was late in the spring semester, [Garcia] was looking for people to continue the project,” Kahan wrote in an email to The Argus. “I asked if I could take this on and continue the project. And so, over the summer I stayed in Middletown and continued the project with Rosanne Ng ’19, who helped with the early stages until the beginning of the fall semester.”
Kahan describes much of the impetus behind this proposal as being propelled by how inaccessible leaving campus can be for students without cars.
“The idea came from the fact that there were very few options to leave Wesleyan and that those options are expensive,” Kahan wrote. “There has to be another way and I believe Connect Middletown addresses this need.”
Kahan foresees Connect Middletown generating a plethora of benefits for Wesleyan students, Middletown residents, and the state of Connecticut at large. His proposal emphasizes an initiative to make transportation cheaper for students to leave campus.
“It is a fact that Middletown is currently inaccessible to get to without a car or without the money to afford an Uber or Lyft,” Kahan wrote. “In order for students to get to New Haven or Bradley, they would be paying significant amounts of money to complete just the first leg of their journey. Connect Middletown gives students, faculty and staff an affordable, sustainable and easy way to leave the region and get to places like Bradley Airport and New Haven without paying exorbitant amounts of money to do so.”
In Kahan’s proposal, he also points to the M-Link Express as a method of improving mobility.
“Students, faculty and staff could use the M-Link Express for easier and cheaper commuting, grocery shopping, or leisure,” Kahan’s proposal reads. “The M-Link Express would be the first step in bringing more efficient transit service to Middletown, allowing people to more easily commute to job centers and quality of life destinations around the region.”
Furthermore, Kahan believes that the M-Link Express will better connect the Wesleyan community with that of MxCC’s in terms of both academic programming and civic engagement responsibilities.
Additionally, the M-Link express service would benefit the Middletown community. It would aid low-income and elderly residents who are unable to access private cars, taxis, or rideshare services due to cost or ability.
“Many of these residents are dependent on the Middletown Area Transit to get to their jobs and school, especially those who work evening and/or overnight shifts or who have night classes,” the proposal reads. “Some residents may have chosen to live in Middletown because of the existence of the bus services, and structure their livelihoods around the existing MAT bus routes.”
Kahan also cites the large populations of students who are not Wesleyan students—like those who attend Xavier and Mercy High Schools—that would benefit from these services. This coupled with the environmental benefits of greater public transportation help bolster Kahan’s proposal.
“According to the Federal Transit Administration, all modes of transportation in the United States account for 29% of greenhouse gases (GHG),” Kahan’s proposal cites from the Federal Transit Administration website. “With this said, taking public transportation has a lower GHG emission per passenger per mile than the average single-occupancy vehicle.”
The proposal also cites the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), describing the lowered carbon dioxide emissions that result from increased public transportation use.
“By eliminating one car and taking public transportation instead of driving, a savings of up to 30% of carbon dioxide emissions can be realized,” APTA states. “Public transportation with its overarching effects on land use, is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually.”
Essentially, Kahan wants Connect Middletown to get people thinking about the resources they use.
“Do we really need more cars on the road?” Kahan wrote. “Or can we repurpose public infrastructure? I choose the latter.”
During the proposal process, many sets of eyes have reviewed Connect Middletown. Executive Director of the Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Sam Gold read the proposal while overseeing Kahan’s transportation survey of the Wesleyan community.
“[Kahan’s] proposal to provide better connections between Wesleyan and Meriden will not only give Wesleyan students access to the new New Haven, Hartford and Springfield commuter rail line starting operations in May, but will also provide much better transit connections between Middletown and Meriden for those two cities’ residents,” Gold wrote in an email to The Argus.
Gold also spoke to the benefits of implementing the U-Pass program that Kahan’s proposal calls for.
“We are hopeful that the results of this survey will help make the case for better transit service to Wesleyan and for the University to join the state’s U-Pass program,” Gold wrote in an email to The Argus. “If Wesleyan was to join the UPass program, it would be the first private university in Connecticut to do so.”
Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst, Kahan’s informal advisor on this project and a Middletown resident, also believes that Connect Middletown will benefit the community. She spoke specifically to the potential ease of travel this project would create.
“As a Middletown resident myself, having more regular and expedient transportation to the Meriden train station has the potential to reduce car trips to New Haven once the CT Rail line goes live in May,” Kleindienst wrote in an email to The Argus. “It will take 15 minutes to get to Meriden and about 20 from Meriden to New Haven via bus/train–only 5-10 minutes longer but much more relaxing and with a lower carbon footprint. A lot of people live in Meriden and work in Middletown and vice versa, so having a fast bus option (the current non-express bus goes to Cromwell, too) would make it easier for people without access to a car to get to work.”
Kleindienst also brought up the convenient location of Middletown. It is a city located halfway between New York and Boston, close to an international airport, along with a number of tourist destinations. Still, those without cars are unable to take full advantage of this geographical advantage.
“Middletown itself has a lot to offer, but it’s nearly impossible to get here without a car,” Kleindienst wrote. “Giving people an easier way to get to and from our City has the potential to benefit their lives and the local economy.”