January 5, 2015

Time to give busway a chance

The state is in the middle of a major PR push to make Connecticut residents and businesses aware that the controversial New Britain-to-Hartford busway is nearing its inaugural 9.4 mile run.

In March, the $567 million shuttle service will begin transporting residents from 10 stations starting in New Britain and coursing through Newington, West Hartford, and Hartford. The state Department of Transportation is projecting 13,000 rides a day, eventually growing to 15,000 rides by 2030. The busway will require a $10 million annual subsidy.

The busway, of course, has been a hot political issue over the years, with some questioning the decision to invest hundreds of millions of state and federal tax dollars in a bus route. In fact, this very newspaper has printed op-eds that have slammed the busway concept. Some have argued it would have been wiser to invest that money in rail transportation.

Was the busway the best use of taxpayer money? Maybe or maybe not, but at this point the issue is moot. The busway will become a reality in three to four months, and the region would be wise to leverage it for all its worth.

That means businesses, particularly in downtown Hartford, should adopt policies that encourage employees to use the busway, and residents who are skeptical about its convenience should give it a try.

If, at the very least, CTfastrak eases congestion along I-84, that will benefit commerce in central Connecticut. On an early positive note, Hartford Business Journal news editor Gregory Seay recently reported that the busway is spurring interest in transit-oriented development along the Hartford-to-New Britain route.

There are at least a half dozen actual or planned residential and commercial developments situated within a mile or closer to the busway. Another half-dozen projects are said to be under consideration for development.

The political rhetoric surrounding the busway has been quiet recently but will heat up once early ridership statistics are released. If the numbers fall flat, Gov. Malloy will face criticism. If more riders than expected use bus transit, Malloy gains a political victory.

Either way, the busway should be given at least a year before it is judged a success or failure, or something in between. And since taxpayers footed the bill to build it, we'll all benefit if it's a success.

State’s hospital-deal restrictions need explanation

With the recent decision by Tenet Healthcare Corp. to pull out of its acquisitions of five Connecticut hospitals, it's time for the Office of Health Care Access (OHCA) or Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to explain why the 47 restrictions placed on the Waterbury Hospital deal were necessary.

Those conditions, which required the appointment of an independent monitor, the freezing of pricing and staffing levels for five or more years, and the filing of strategic spending and hiring plans, mirrored some of the language initially included in bills proposed last legislative session to govern nonprofit to for-profit hospital conversions. Lawmakers agreed some of those restrictions were too onerous and passed a watered-down measure.

Still, OHCA decided that Tenet's Waterbury Hospital purchase required more stringent oversight. The question is, why?

Certainly, nonprofit to for-profit hospital conversions need close scrutiny, but it's hard to understand why Tenet was being asked to play by different rules than other Connecticut hospitals.

At a time of rapid consolidation in the healthcare industry, Connecticut needs to have a fair and equitable legal framework in place to govern hospital mergers and acquisitions. Right now, it appears we don't have one.

The focus of any requirements should be on preserving high quality and access to care, while at the same time pressuring hospitals to control costs.

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