Three Rivers lobbies transit authority for express buses for students

Norwich - Representatives from Three Rivers Community College are asking Southeast Area Transit to create express bus service to the college to help students who rely on public transportation.

The express buses primarily would be for students from Groton and New London. Many of these students on a typical day spend between two and three hours making various bus transfers to get to and from classes at Three Rivers, according to school officials.

SEAT provides bus service to nine towns in the region.

Meg Wichser, a retention specialist at Three Rivers, and other school officials recently made a trip to speak with SEAT's board of directors. Wichser said research done by the college shows that many students don't have reliable transportation. She said it's a reality that often forces them to miss classes or withdraw from school altogether.

"My argument is: Build it and they will come," Wichser said of the express runs. "Once something permanent and regular is established, I believe people would really take advantage of it."

Three Rivers delivered its preliminary fall enrollment report to SEAT, which showed the college has 1,108 students from Groton and New London. Those students were asked to complete an online survey last month, and of the 140 or so who responded, a majority favored the express runs.

Answers to the survey show many would opt for the bus rather than pay high gasoline prices to drive their own cars. One respondent said the lack of effective public transportation keeps people from coming to the school.

Paul Altman, SEAT board chairman, asked Wichser whether the college has considered obtaining public funding to acquire its own express bus. He also asked whether the college would be willing to help subsidize the service in some way.

SEAT is in the midst of financial difficulties that began when a 90,000-gallon fuel leak was discovered behind the bus company's Route 12 facility. The state has determined that SEAT is responsible for the leak.

The bus company is involved in two lawsuits that could result in SEAT having to pay more than $1 million to cover cleanup costs. A 2011 audit showed the bus company had spent $464,124 on the fuel cleanup.

SEAT's member towns also have expressed dissatisfaction with current bus service. For instance, Griswold and Waterford have either delayed or stopped paying their entire SEAT assessments after becoming displeased with company operations.

Wichser said the college is hopeful the express service would include morning, afternoon and night runs. She said the college sought a private van that students would have had to pay for, but the idea ultimately was unsuccessful.

Elizaldy Hilario, a Three Rivers student from New London, also spoke to the SEAT board, saying that she feels unsafe at times when she spends more than an hour riding the bus at night. And, she said, she wakes up around 6 a.m. to get to a morning class at 8 a.m. and sometimes still runs late.

"Some professors understand, but others don't realize that transportation is a difficult thing for us," Hilario said.


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