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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finance Board’s Transit Cut’s Quadruple Effect

By James Lomuscio

WestportNow.com Image
The after school bus service is especially popular among families with both parents working. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Westport Transit District map
The Board of Finance’s $100,000 cut from the Westport Transit District’s proposed $1.3 million budget will actually cost the bus service $400,000, according to Louis Schulman, administrator of the Norwalk Transit District, which runs Westport’s service.

“For every $1 we receive from the town, we receive $3 in state funding, state operating assistance from the state Department of Transportation,” Schulman said on Monday.

He was responding to the Board of Finance budget reduction last week which he said involves a total loss of “about one-third of the entire budget for public transportation in town.”

Unless there is restoration by the Board of Finance next week or the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in May, the 2011-12 operating budget will be $900,000, Schulman said.

“If there are no restorations, we are giving the directors a series of options,” he said. “It will be up to them to decide what cuts to make.”

Schulman said that the Westport Transit District’s co-directors Jim Hood and Bud Titsworth will have three basic options.

They could cut fixed route service for after school programs. These buses shuttle children to religious education programs, the Y, and the Westport Public Library and are especially popular among families in which both parents work, he said.

They could cut federally-mandated door-to-door service for the elderly and disabled. Or they might limit commuter service to and from the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms train stations.

“The fares are something else we might look at,” Schulman said.

He noted that the $1.25 fare to anywhere in town might have to increase, though it is not certain if that would increase revenues since ridership might drop.

Schulman took issue with finance board members saying that the Westport Transit District, since it has not raised fares and has a dwindling ridership, represents a poor business model.

“We’re not a business,” he said. “We’re not in it to make money. Public transit is a service like police and fire.

“Up until the 1950s, public transportation was in private hands because it made a profit.”

The Transit District notified riders last week through flyers on the buses of possible reductions in service – a move that has already resulted in a flurry of protesting emails to town officials.


Posted 03/29/11 at 09:00 AM  Permalink


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It’ll be interesting to see in what condition the busses
re kept with the $900,000 cut since, with the “full” funding of the past, they are in deplorable condition both cosmetically and mechanically.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 29, 2011 at 09:33 AM | #

What a major step backwards!  A huge selling feature in moving to Westport is the ability to utilize public transport to and from the RR station. I have many clients and friends who rely on it because of the dismal parking options at the stations already. The service has been a tipping point many times over with people deciding on Westport as their new home above other towns.  Our towns commuters just keep getting shafted over and over again between Metro-North, parking and now these cuts.  It’s a slap in the face to them as far as I’m concerned and considering that without the revenue from residents who commute, we would be in much worse shape.

Posted by Billy Nistico on March 29, 2011 at 10:58 AM | #

The rides cost $14 each, regardless of who pays for it. There are runs that go to employment locations in Norwalk, providing no benefit to Westport taxpayers. The vans get under 5 gallons a mile. The costs, with benefits, are out of proportion with the private sector.

We suggested consolidating runs - eg pick up at commuter lots. Workers must have a way to get to the station - the commuter lot may be the best answer for consolidation of runs.

We’re also looking at using the buses the BOE already pays for to do the after school programs, if the transit authority is unable to run cost-effectively. We understand the importance of these runs.

I’ve made a plea to increase parking via two tiered parking - I suggest you email the Selectman’s office if you agree. Our home values would increase as people moving from the city are attracted to Westport because of no railroad parking wait.

Avi Kaner
Boa of Finance

Posted by Avi Kaner on March 29, 2011 at 11:50 AM | #

People don’t move to Westport for parking, they are attracted to our town for the beauty, absense of the clutter and over building that exist in many towns and cities around us.  But if we continue on our current path of building on Camp Mahakano, Building on Barons South and putting up multilevel parking structures downtown and at the RR sta then ..... Hello traffic, good bye opens pace
As to the buses they are dirty, inefficient and poorly driven (speed).  Genius idea sharing the School Buses for the kids now look at a smart idea for seniors and commuters,  $14 a ride is unacceptable by any means.

Posted by chip stephens on March 29, 2011 at 12:14 PM | #

Chip- you are usually spot on with your comments, but you would be surprised at how many people make the ultimate decision to buy here because the ease of commuting coupled with what semblance of public transport we are offering.  Yes, the beauty etc. is the attraction, but I can count dozens of occasions where my clients end up purchasing because of the ability to get to the station by bus and they all use it currently.  I 100% behind doing what we can to maintaining open space and utilizing proper ‘planning’ for our town in the long haul, but considering the time it will take to overhaul public transport….starting with cuts to it, is just not a good beginning.

Posted by Billy Nistico on March 29, 2011 at 12:23 PM | #

I think we need to consider the needs of Westporters who don’t “have a ride to the station” or single parents who aren’t able to pick up their kids at school to take them to after-school programs or seniors who need the van to get around town if they don’t drive. 

There must be a solution.  It sounds as though the Board of Finance is being pennywise and pound/dollar foolish to, in effect, cut $400,000 in funding from the Transit District’s monies.

Posted by Linda Smith on March 29, 2011 at 02:14 PM | #

Chip - the irony of your comment is that by eliminating bus service you would increase the numbers of cars on the road and the amount of parking needed.

The situation for new residents is infuriating (don’t get me started on the ridiculously archaic payment system for the $4 spots), and eliminating bus service isn’t going to help.

Posted by Ethan Abraham on March 29, 2011 at 02:17 PM | #

The bus service was a key attraction when I moved here 33 years and it still is. At that time my children and their friends used it and now my Mother and her friends use it. We are only 1 family. I agree, pennywise and pound foolish! My clients over the years have also felt that our public transportation was a unique feature for a suburban community.

Posted by Lynne Minsky on March 29, 2011 at 02:37 PM | #

For many people and for many years, the weekday commuter buses have been an essential part of our daily commute to work. 
What is ironic, is that the $324 annual cost of a commuter bus ticket exceeds the $225 cost of an annual parking permit.  It should be the other way around.
Perhaps one piece of the the solution is to raise the price of an annual station parking permit, thereby making the commuter bus a more economical alternative.  With 1,454 parking spots at the station, an increase of $100 per year could more than fund the $100,000 planned cut.  A policy like this would likely increase commuter bus ridership and bus revenue, without diminishing demand for those that still want to park at the station.
I suspect that revenue from parking permits goes into a different pot.  I leave it to our elected representatives to make whatever changes necessary to move the money to the right place, and to create the correct financial incentives to favor mass transit.

Posted by Andy Kaplan on March 29, 2011 at 03:13 PM | #

Annual parking spots are clearly way underpriced. Clearly there is a huge incentive to hold on to a spot even if you never use it, which leads to a situation like we have now, where many annual spots are not being used.

Posted by Ethan Abraham on March 29, 2011 at 03:54 PM | #

I have been concerned about the lack of bus transportation for at least 30 years.  The Town has been fixated on the fact that the problem can’t be solved.  It can be.  Buses will never be a money maker, but they can be a problem solver for hundreds of our townspeople.  One late AM bus to the railroad station, and one bus from the station before the arrival of commuters, can make a difference.  Bus pick-up areas on unused, or partially used, parking areas throughout town can cut costs.  You will need a year’s trial period…...and MARKETING.  We have talented people out there in our community.  Use them.

Posted by Carole Donenfeld on March 30, 2011 at 02:23 PM | #

You say, “I have no interest in paying more to subsidize other town services”, David?  Do you have a home in Westport?  Yes.  Do these unique town services make our property values go up?  Yes.  It’s a win-win situation: you can (reluctantly and with comments like this) help other people in Westport AND your house will be worth more.  I know people who live near you and it’s only a 6/10s of a mile walk to the railroad station.  You’re very lucky.

Posted by Linda Smith on March 30, 2011 at 03:22 PM | #

Your house is only worth more when you sell it. While you maintain it as your home burdensome town services require higher taxes. privately run transportation services may be more expensive but they are paid for by the users and if there were competing services efficency would surface reducing the per ride cost.

Posted by Michael Calise on March 30, 2011 at 04:00 PM | #

Unless I am mistaken, I belive that the revenue associated with the parking permits does not belong to the Town of Westport.  I believe that Westport is responsible for the administration of the parking and may get some fee for that service.  Raising the parking cost would not and could not benefit the town.

Posted by Alan Puklin on March 30, 2011 at 07:51 PM | #