Evan Barr: Save Our Commuter Bus Routes!

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 11, 8 p.m., Town Hall), the Board of Finance votes on restoration of $113,000 to the $248,000 budget for the Westport Transit District.

Cuts were made last year. Ridership went down. Now, with ridership down, further cuts are proposed.

Westport resident, lawyer and commuter Evan Barr is not pleased. He makes these points:

The per-rider cost of $4527.63 sounds like a lot of money. But public transit is not about profit. It’s a public service that almost always must be significantly subsidized.  It should not have to “pay for itself.”

The town should consider the consequence of eliminating bus service. Some people will have to buy a second car, and pay to park it, operate it, insure it.  Families with only 1 car will have to arrange their schedules around station drop-offs and pick-ups.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Nearly everyone in Westport says they favor green initiatives. This no-brainer opportunity to reduce traffic and air pollution, at a relatively minor cost of $114,000 (out of an overall town budge of $74 million) gets voted down – even though the town plan adopted a few years ago advocates increasing routes and enhancing ridership.

We have relatively inexpensive parking costs at the Saugatuck lot, compared to others in the region, so we encourage people to drive to the station. Maybe, as one former RTM member said, we should increase cost of parking in the Saugatuck lot to subsidize the bus system.

Meanwhile, camaraderie exists among shuttle bus riders. It gives folks who live in the same part of town a chance to talk with their neighbors — which never happens in separate vehicles.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport's commuter buses.

Virtually everyone I spoke to who uses the bus said they would happily pay a higher fare if that would help reduce the deficit and save the system. Most said they would pay twice the current $1.50. Norwalk Transit has apparently been inflexible in refusing to explore this possibility. If necessary, Westport should hire a consultant and find another vendor to provide the service.

After cutbacks — resulting from budget cuts — the one route left (Imperial) is basically useless. Most people would have to drive to the lot to take the bus. Once  in your car, you’re probably inclined to just drive down to the station. Keeping Imperial is of symbolic value only.

If the system goes under, it’s unlikely we can reconstitute another any time soon.  If the budget cut goes through we also walk away from $400,000 in state subsidy. Good luck getting those funds back.

The current system is far from perfect. But it’s far better to tinker with it than to scrap it entirely.

24 responses to “Evan Barr: Save Our Commuter Bus Routes!

  1. They should use smaller vehicles to cut costs……something like……a “Minny Bus”.

    Just Sayin’

  2. Another great public service starved out of existence. Nothing would invigorate this town like safe, reliable, public transportation available to all (not just commuters). Imagine taking the bus to the grocery store, senior center, or beach! Hopping a ride downtown for a drink. Getting a ride home after soccer practice…

  3. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Park City Utah has an amazing transit system…..that takes people allover to ski the three different rresorts and areas of town…it costs a whopping 0, zip, nada…

  4. We have just moved to Westport (and we love it by the way, and did consider Darien!) One of the many deciding factors for us was the fantastic commuter bus service. We were so impressed that Westport had such a service, unlike almost any other place we have ever lived or considered living in. We are very unhappy that it is facing closure. It will mean more traffic around the station and downtown, more competition for the few spaces in the parking lots, and an even longer wait for the parking pass. It could even mean that Westport is less desirable for newcomers and our properties are harder to sell. We also agree that in order to retain it fares could increase or smaller buses used. Please attend the meeting tomorrow if you can and show your support for this fantastic service. We will be.

  5. Old and Grey

    Some subsidy should be in order but the service should be priced to compete with alternative transportation choices. $1.50 a ride is too low. What does it cost to own/gas/insure/park a car? Shutting it down without considering higher per ride costs is not smart.

  6. The Dude Abides

    Give everybody a bike in this town and you will save money in the long run.

    • Richard Lawrence Stein

      Dude checkout this very interesting concept in regards to bikes… Bixi bike systems..

      • The Dude Abides

        Leave it to the Canadians. Great idea. 1,000,000 bikes in Amsterdam with little heart disease and no conjested traffic/pollution. Of course, there are the drugs and prostitutes too.

    • Dudes got it right, for $4,500 you could buy a tandem and hire a high school kid to peddle you.

  7. Good comments, Evan.

  8. If it is such a great deal, then it should pay for istelf. the fact that it does not reflects a lack of demand. Everybody wants a subsidy.

    • I know from bitter experience that it’s frustrating to see public dollars go to a place you don’t particularly value. On the other hand, I think of other great things that don’t pay for themselves (like museums and historical sites) and I’m glad they’re there.

  9. Good article, Evan. If anything, the service needs to be extended! There should be bus service available to get you to the train station starting from the 5:20 (or 5:47) – 10:09 AM departures and to get you back home from the 5:09 – 10:43 PM arrivals (those evening trains are packed, even the 9:07 and 9:37 departures from GCT). The only people who are happy about this are the taxi companies (and rightfully so!).

  10. Late Night Rita

    Dump the bus idea. This is the 21st century.

  11. Maybe if they wouldn’t idle away at the train station they might save a few extra gallons a day and when they idle at the RR station near the new tunnel by the elevator towers…on the right day when the wind hits it just right…the diesel exhaust drops into the tunnel…lovely…
    Aside from that better advertisment and placement of schedule information might increase ridership. My wife would take the bus often and came to realize that they would arrive 5-10 minutes late later in the morning off peak hours when she does most of her commuting. On the otherhand… come on…let’s face it…raising the fair slightly to help compensate for budget cuts and increasing fuel costs is fair. If the schedule accomodated my hours I also would be inclined to use it…In a town where people don’t blink at $18 dollars glasses of Cabernet…I think while important to have such a service…it is equally important to operate it as efficiently as possible.

  12. PS: please excuse my somewhat disjointed comments…it is early… and my finger hit “Post Comment” as the train swayed back and forth… No chance to edit and review…although I will say…Morwalk Transit could take a few lessons from the MTA and that’s a scary thought.

  13. One of the few BAD decisions of the BoF.

    If I remember from last year, the BoF wanted changes and the Transit folks disagreed. And Avi wanted to build his 2tier garage on the New Haven side. Payback time!

    All a big bluff. Anyone who throws away $400,000 to save $114,000 should not be on any BoF.

    Verdict: RESTORED

  14. Terry Brannigan

    This one continues to baffle me. I have commented on the topic of chauffer service to school by parents before. We live right in between Staples and Bedford and I watch the consumptive process of parents driving their kids to school every morning. There are lots of good ideas out there…but how about this one…. Set your alarms 15 minutes earlier and ride the bus! We wonder why kids would rather “occupy” than work…?
    BTW: If you ever get the chance to meet “Sal” who drove my boys to school for 4 years you will be better for the experience. What a great guy.

  15. I’d strongly encourage the town to keep this service alive. As a one-car family, public transport is vitally important to us … More important, the character of this town, (in which I grew up), has been so drastically changed for the worst by an ever-increasing glut of noisy traffic. I implore the BOF and town officials not to take a step backwards by killing the buses. Instead, let’s see efforts and energy aimed at re-creating a pedestrian-friendly, ecology-minded INTELLIGENT town …

  16. Transit ridership is up across the country, and smart communities, including suburban ones similar to Westport, are investing in careful expansion of transit. Transit reduces traffic congestion, parking congestion, crashes and their costs in terms of lives, health, and dollars, road and parking infrastructure costs, energy consumption, and pollution, while allowing more families to cut down on car costs and allowing nondrivers greater mobility (something that will become more important as we Baby Boomers age). Many of these are benefits shared by all of us, not just the riders. Expecting transit to pay for itself when roads do not (the gas tax for example covers only a small part of highway costs) simply means we value the car over other modes of transportation, not that we are being fiscally responsible.

    • Public transportation is a misallocation of resources. If it were such a great deal, people would be willing to pay a price that covered the cost. Subsidizing highways is another misuse of scarce resources; highways like public transportation are excellent sources of pork.