The New Blog On The Block

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.

Taking the train is only half the battle. Getting there is the other. (Photo/Jeremiah Cox)

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.”

The Westport bus shuttle map could use some spiffing up.

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.”

28 responses to “The New Blog On The Block

  1. Westporter Since '03

    We are one of the fortunate few to have a train parking sticker (we put our name on the list years ago and when the sticker became available, we took it — and pay the princely sum every year simply for the privilege of having it “just in case”… now it appears the “just in case” may finally come to pass).

    Yet my husband chooses to take the shuttle, instead of driving to the station. Why ? For the convenience and ease (the shuttle literally takes him door-to-door, someone else does the driving :-), the camaraderie (he’s made a number of friends just from his morning and evening rides), economy (it’s a shared ride to the station) and desire to be green (less traffic & pollution).

    As it is, many mornings he says the shuttle sits in traffic going over the Cribari bridge (he’s on the S4)… can hardly imagine what it’ll be like if they eliminate the shuttle and those folks are in their individual cars or being driven to the station (which also means traffic going back the other way) !

    And yes, the Shuttle needs to be promoted, so more of Westport knows ABOUT IT & HOW TO USE IT (we had a dickens of a time when we first bought our home finding out who ran it – “Norwalk Transit District”/but this is Westport ! – and what the schedule and stops were)…

    And yes, it takes money to keep it running… but I love the point that Carolin Sigal made to the BofF: how ’bout the COST of building a parking garage (not to mention the hideousness) –I think her husband estimated it at $20 million — he should know: he builds massive projects for a major NYC architecture firm. Why is it that the majority of the BofF (and esp Avi Kaner) seem to have a vendetta against the shuttle ?

    Is Kaner hoping that he can get a naming on the parking garage that he seems so vehemently in support of ??? (The I-Kaner-Killed-the-Shuttle-So I-Could-Spoil-Saugatuck-Parking-Garage)

    The RTM needs to vote to restore and YES, the Shuttle needs to become a more well-known and well-used alternative for commuters getting to the station, in lieu of driving.

    More folks should try it… even those who have a parking sticker… they might like it !

  2. Indignant. That’s how some members acted about the shuttle. Get serious BoF. Stop picking pepper out of fly shit, as they say. You are starting to look like the P&Z we just threw out. Non listeners. Park your expensive cars and ride the bus some day. Did you ever ride it?

    Focus on the larger items. Get a life.

    • Why don’t the people who want to ride the bus, pay for that convenience? Why should bus riders be subsidized? Everyone wants OPM.

      • BECAUSE, as Ms. Sigal put it so succinctly: We are a COMMUNITY… NOT a business (Man, she really slam-dunked those BofF members ! πŸ™‚ )

        “Why should I pay for the Senior Center ? I want a TAX CREDIT – I’m NOT a senior (yet)”…

        “Why should I pay for the Special Ed program at school… my kid isn’t in Special Ed ?”

        “Why should I pay for my neighbor’s 5 kids to go to our schools… I only have ONE kid… I’m not getting my fair share” (waaahhhhh…. whine whine whine)

        Why why why ??

        WHY don’t YOU just move to an ISLAND, where you can be ANONYMOUS forever ?

        Duh !

        • The whining is coming most from those who want others to pay for their wants because they are unable to provide for themselves. What you prefer as an alternative to a community is a charity where you can belly up to the public trough.

        • Old and Grey

          Well said Tiny Tim…good examples…even my old curudgeonous self has to agree…this should susidized to equate to 70% or so of “true cost” of auto use.

        • Wendy Crowther

          Until last year, a friend of mine was taking the Westport commuter bus to the RR station. She paid $28 per month for her bus pass. Multiply that by 12 months and the annual total was $336. Depending on her schedule, she caught the bus at the end of her block, or drove to the commuter lot and took the shuttle to the station from there (same monthly pass does both). She waited years to finally come up to the top of the RR parking sticker list. The annual cost for that RR parking sticker was nearly the same as her bus fee. Therefore, riders of the commuter bus DO PAY for its use.

          There needs to be an option for RR commuters who newly move here, or who newly must ride the train to get to work, school, etc., especially because there are no RR parking stickers available for years. Even if you do score a “pay daily” space, doing so on a daily basis would be hugely expensive, especially on top of the RR commutation ticket cost.

          My friend was really satisfied with the bus service and would have continued using it except her work frequently kept her late in NY leaving her no way to get home after the last evening shuttle.

    • Sublime to Ridiculous

      Love it, Vet !

      Why doesn’t WestportCommuter.org sponsor a “Take Your BofF Member for a Shuttle Ride?” How many of them even have to commute to NYC/park at the RR station anyway ? Experience the trials and tribulations of the commute ?

      (First it’s the getting from home to the train, then the lovely Metro-North RR commute, then, if you’re REALLY lucky, you get to ride the NYC public transit system… and hope that all those components are working on a given day).

      I think it was Lasersohn who said “why should the riders expect their neighbors to pay for their ride?”… which leads to the kind of brain-damaged thinking of folks like our “friend” Anonymous below… thanks Lasersohn, Nice job on the petty, small-minded thinking … glad I voted you in… NOT !

  3. A commuter, who loves westport.

    If someone could please let me know the shuttle schedule, I would love to use it. How do I find out about it??? I have a parking sticker, but I don’t get to the station at the crack of dawn, and by the time I do get there– even at 9am, I can’t find a parking. I have to park far from the train (which add time to my commute)-and then I come home late at night, and have to walk to my car, often alone and by myself–no lighting to speak of. As an elderly woman, I feel very uneasy. I don’t for the life of me know why I pay for a parking sticker for this type of inconvenience. I think until the town comes up with alternative practical solutions for commuters– the shuttle service hours should be INCREASED– NOT DECREASED. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention, I am now going to go out of my way to use the shuttle. It seems like it will be very helpful to me.

    • Good Neighbor

      To see the routes & schedules, just click on the “Norwalk Transit District” link that Dan provided above… it takes you to their website. Everything is there.

      You could try taking the AM shuttle… the only thing that may not help you is that the last evening shuttle leaves around 7:30 PM… don’t know if that is “late” enough for you, but there is always cabs at the station and that will give you the door-to-door peace of mind at night when it’s dark.

  4. A commuter, who loves westport.

    Thank you– good neighbor.

  5. Tiny Tim said it well.
    Anonymous sounds like someone on the BoF.
    I’m a taxpayer and I do not use the bus, but I’m willing to subsidize its existence. The BoF needs to find out what the voters who elected them want, then take action. Not act on their own UNPOPULAR whims.

    • I want ice cream, and I want you to pay for it. Let’s take a vote. If you are so dedicated to democracy, why not advocate a vote on the entire town budget? Too much democracy?

    • Westporter Since '03

      I’m with you Veteran:
      Anonymous DOES sound like a member of the BofF
      (I had the same thought !)

      If it quacks like a duck…

      • It is so much fun spending other people’s money isn’t it?

        • Westporter Since '03

          We spend PLENTY of our own money…

          As I stated above, we pay to keep our parking sticker, and THEN my husband still chooses to take the shuttle bus BECAUSE it is the RIGHT THING TO DO.

          He could opt to be another ONE-sie idling in his car, clogging the roads (and creating more traffic hazards, at a time of day when the roads are already in HIGH use with kids waiting for school buses – as Ms. Sigal also wisely pointed out)…

          A lot of folks probably figure it’s “easier to take my car to the station” but unless one’s hours are well outside of the shuttle schedule, or one lives well off the shuttle route, the shuttle really offers wonderful convenience.

          Besides, no one has come up with a good rationale as to WHY Westport would want to THROW AWAY what is a majority of the subsidy for the program from the state and Federal government.

          Short-sighted, plain and simple.

          • The subsidy costs money, it does not generate a positive net cash flow for the town. Many other communities have seen the folly of accepting such subsidies.

            • Westporter Since '03

              So what ? Doesn’t Westport receive other subsidies that don’t generate “positive net cash flow” for the town ?

              EX: Doesn’t Westport receive state (& Federal) subsidies or grants for our schools ? Do our schools generate “positive net cash flow for the town ?” Or do they make up a major portion of our town’s budget expenditures ? Does that mean we close our schools then ?

  6. just an idea

    Why not increase the price of a parking sticker to subsidize the bus? If you make it costly enough some parkers might give up their sticker and take the bus, freeing up stickers for those on the waiting list. It is parking that is the luxury and bus service the necessity, not the other way around.

    • Old and Grey

      Give that person a prize…that’s the way to even things out and get fewer people using cars. If it weren’t for the toll booth safety issues tolls should go back on I-95 and the Merritt to drive folks from the roads to the train. Oh Mr. Anonymous….what’s your position on road subsidies??? Can’t wait to hear that reply!

      • Pulls No Punches

        I believe the proper term just might be “Mr. Board of Finance” (instead of “Mr. Anonymous”)… this duck quacks like Mssrs. Kaner or Lasersohn πŸ˜‰

  7. You can’t talk about the subsidy for shuttle riders without acknowledging the massive implicit subsidy for parking stickers. Let’s do the math – the daily parking spots at $5 a day are very well used. If you used that every day, that would equate to $1,250 a year. Yet parking stickers cost $325 last I checked, so we can be conservative and say that they are at least $500 cheaper than they should be. That’s a massive subsidy!There are 1,400 permit spaces so I imagine there are at least 1,500 parking stickers. That’s $750,000 a year to subsidize parking stickers! And they are fighting over $100k a year for commuter shuttles? Just raise the price of a sticker by $100 – it will still be a massive bargain and more than cover the cost of the shuttles.

  8. We should do away with Anonymous. No need for any subsidies. Tiny Tim listed a few. Eliminate all mass transit for starters, then the military, then…

  9. Instead of subsidizing a bus no one rides, we should use the same dollars to either hire more classroom teachers, or fix the driving range at Longshore.

  10. Hall-Brooke Fan of 06880

    Geez, Emma, I think we should put the money into a kitty at Joey’s By the Shore so every man, woman and child in Westport can get a popsicle (it comes out to about $2/head — I did the math !)… but that means NO Sponge Bob pops, cuz those cost more !!!

    Then we can ALL have a fun summer ! πŸ™‚

    • The total subsidyfrom all sources is about $960,000. The population of Westport is 26,391 (roughly); which works out to a subsidy of about $36.38 per person per year, or enough to buy about three hot dogs for each resident at the new hot dog palace at Longshore.