An early morning commuter bus from Branchville direct to New York City is a concept being studied by an entrepreneur who operates a driver service.
“It takes cars off the road,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said to the selectmen. “The people at that station have been begging for more express service in the morning.”
Marconi had been approached concerning use of the Branchville Train Station parking lot — which the town leases from the state — as a departure point.
“We do want it to be a multi-modal transportation center,” Marconi said of the station.
Chris Candee of R. Lucas Drivers is investigating the commuter bus concept, and if things work out — there are lot of questions that still need answers — his hope is buses might start running in early 2019.
“The target would be for after the holidays, to start it, after the first of the year,” Candee told The Press.
“The idea would be have a bus leave the Branchville parking lot at 6 a.m and get into Manhattan — it should be right around 7:15,” he said.
“Obviously, we have to run it from a train station so people can get to their cars when they get home,” Candee said. “It would not be a round-trip situation.
“The idea of the bus is much more difficult for a couple of reasons: Number one, people go home after their day ends at all different times. To commit to one specific time is difficult.
Obviously the trains are running at such short times — every 20 minutes or so.
“Driving a bus home from Manhattan at 5 or 6 is not going to be quick — at that point the train is possibly a faster route.”
In the morning, however, Candee sees a bus with an early departure time as an attractive option for commuters.
“This is simpler and faster and more comfortable,” he said.
“It would be like a 50-seat coach bus, and the seat reclines — it would be nice, especially early in the morning.
“I’d make it a quiet bus, no talking on the phone. It would be a more civilized. There’s a restroom on board.
“I think a lot of people will see the appeal of the express bus,” he said.
“Part of the appeal of this is to get into the city faster,” Candee said.
The train commuting time from Branchville to Grand Central is about an hour and half — 88 minutes to 95 minutes, he said.
For commuters who take the “Katonah shuttle” bus from Jesse Lee Church parking lot in Ridgefield to the train station in Katonah, N.Y., and then catch trains into Manhattan from there, Candee estimated the travel time from Ridgefield to the city as about an hour and 45 minutes.
“A direct bus should be a half-hour faster, as long as the bus is leaving at 6 a.m,” he said.
A bus with a later departure would take longer.
“What I’m proposing is people park at Branchville, take the better commute in morning on the bus, and then take a train home,” he said.
Candee doesn’t have a specific destination or drop-off point in Manhattan yet.
“People are used to going right into Grand Central so I imagine we’d drop off right near Grand Central,” he said.
A specific drop-off point would be determined “based on the profile of where people work — if there are a bunch of people who work in the 57th Street area, we could make a stop on 57th Street.”
How much would a morning bus ride to the city cost?
“I’m putting together the pricing structure for it,” Candee said.
“In terms of pricing for the ride in, I’m trying to put it in the same ballpark of what a peak train ticket would cost to go in to Manhattan — around $17,” he said. “It could be little more, could be little less, that’s the ballpark number.”
Initially, he plans to run the service through a charter bus operator. But if it proves successful, Candee said he might try to get licensed to operate his own service.
“For starters, I would charter a bus. I don’t want to purchase a bus and find out people don’t want to do it.”
Bus turn around
Marconi discussed the idea with The Press Oct. 29 after first raising it at the previous week’s selectmen’s meeting.
“His idea is to provide express bus service out of the Branchville Train Station at approximately 6 a.m. into the city,” Marconi said.
“I’ve asked him for some additional information,” he added. “Define the coach bus, and proof of liability insurance for the town of Ridgefield.”
Candee is asking the town for use of the parking lot — which the town controls under a $1-a-year lease from the state Department of Transportation, which might have to approve any use by a commuter bus.
“We lease it, as a parking lot, so we’d in all likelihood need permission from the Connecticut DOT,” Marconi said.
Marconi thought the most difficult issue could be the size of the bus and whether it’ll be able to turn around comfortably in the train station lot.
“It’s really going to be, can a bus get in and out of there — a bus can certainly get in there, but can they turn around and get out? Because they cannot exit via Depot Road,” he said.
“We have to look at all of that and it may be an issue,” Marconi said. “I don’t know if he can literally get into the station with a coach bus — physically.”