When Steven McClenning and his wife were ready to leave Brooklyn for the suburbs, they wanted the usual: more space, recreation, good schools.
They also wanted to be close to the train — Steven works in publishing and design, in New York. The McClennings did not want to have to buy a 2nd car, just to drive back and forth from the station.
When they learned about Westport’s commuter bus shuttle, their horizons expanded. Suddenly, they didn’t have to buy within walking distance.
For the past 4 1/2 years, the McClennings have lived happily on Oak Street. It’s a nice neighborhood — mixing old-timers and young families — with just a 4-minute walk to the Clinton Avenue corner. Every morning Steven and several other commuters flag down the shuttle, and head to train.
Last year, when the Board of Finance cut and the RTM subsequently restored transit funds, Steven paid little attention. But this year, during the same debate over the future of the buses, he got involved.
He wrote the Board of Finance. He shared his letter with fellow commuters. He gathered emails, and told them about upcoming meetings. They emailed him with comments; he forwarded them to a quickly growing list of addresses. It was an important but inefficient way to communicate.
When neighbor Rudy Bakalov offered to host a shuttle-related web site, Steven accepted. He took all the info he had — on topics like the shuttle’s effect on real estate values, parking problems at the station, ridership figures, etc. — and created a blog.
Rudy suggested the name WestportCommuter.org, so it could expand beyond mere shuttle news. “The town needs to make a long-term commitment to commuters,” Steven says. “This can be a way to bring lots of different commuting issues together.”
He hopes the blog will become a group effort. “I don’t speak for everyone, and I don’t want to,” he says. “Different people have different ideas. We need to hear all of them.”
One suggestion: to use commuters’ talents to help market the Norwalk Transit District. “Their budget has been squeezed so tight, they haven’t been able to communicate basic information, like routes and how to get the bus,” Steven says.
A commuter-created mobile app, including schedules and a better map, would be a great blog project.
Though Steven did some political work in college, he never considered himself an activist.
But, he notes, “when an issue hits close to home, you get invested in it.”
And, he says, his recent commuter activism has made him realize how hard — and important — it is to volunteer your time.
“Everyone on the RTM does what they do for public service,” he says of the men and women who will control the fate of the shuttle system when they vote May 7. (A 70% vote is needed to restore full funding.)
“They do a lot more than I do. I have nothing but respect for them.”