HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — With fuel prices soaring and inflation hitting an all-time high, people are looking for ways to save money.

The state has been offering free bus rides since April and there’s talk the free rides may be extended beyond the projected end date of December 1, into the new year. Republicans said people need more substantial relief now.

17-year-old Joanne Hall is riding CTfastrak from Hartford to the West Farms Mall in West Hartford for FREE.

“I’ve seen many more people, especially my high school friends since we’re out of school with summertime. We just take the bus and go whatever,” said Hall.

She is part of the growing number of riders taking advantage of the FREE ride from the state. $20 million dollars was earmarked for the program to take the pressure off of high gas prices. Hall doesn’t have her driver’s license yet and isn’t in a rush.

“The prices now are scary. And at this point, I don’t really want a car,” continued Hall.

Transportation officials say 90 percent of pre-pandemic ridership is back. Commissioner Joe Giulietti from the CT Dept. of Transportation says the free ride program is “a tremendous boon for public transit.”

He says it’s going to set the stage for what we’ll call a carbon-neutral, or carbon-free system.

State Rep. Ed Vargas from Hartford agrees. “We can no longer rely on the old systems of transportation and we can’t keep building highways, destroying the environment. We can’t keep depending on fossil fuel.”

The administration’s idea to transition to all-electric buses includes 50-Ev’s by year’s end in a fleet of 800.
Meantime, the governor said he and the Democratic majority made budget choices. They cut the car tax, expanding earned income tax and child tax credits.

State Rep. Matt Ritter the Speaker of the House said they dismissed Republican calls to suspend the diesel tax on goods and services because it was not direct to consumers.

“The taxes that we did go right into your pocket there’s no middlemen,” said State Rep Matt Ritter.

The Governor floated the idea of extending FREE bus rides after the December cut-off should he be re-elected.

“I would like to.” Lamont added, “It helps people get to work, saves them an awful lot of money. In the time they need it right now.”

Republicans say only the legislature can extend that benefit. It would take millions out of the special transportation fund used for roads and bridge repair.

State Rep. Vincent Candelora the House Minority Leader says “I would be a little bit cautious in this.”
He says especially with a recession looming the economy could be thrown off track.

“This governor is already looking and talking about December and January giveaways when we really should be looking at the real impacts that are affecting people right now with inflation food cost, transportation costs, and provide relief right now,” said Candelora.

Republicans had proposed a broad-based income tax cut – they say would have delivered $750 dollars to every household.

Lawmakers would have to vote on whether to continue to those free bus rides after the new year.