Combined with after-school increases, the WTD projects a near 11% rise in riders this year. After a decade of dwindling numbers — both a cause and effect of funding and service cuts — that’s impressive news indeed.
From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the WTD carried 63,000 riders. This year, it’s on track for 70,000. And that includes 3 weeks when Metro-North’s worst woes kept nearly everyone off the rails.
The ridership increases work out to 8.5% for fixed-route commuter buses, and 40% in after-school riders. One of the key after-school routes is to Earthplace, where several dozen students have internships.
Jim Ross — chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee — ties much of the increase to the “huge efforts” of unpaid transit directors Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cedarbaum.
“They’ve single-handedly upped the WTD’s game by tirelessly working with state, town and business communities to raise awareness and support,” Ross says.
He also cites a “smart, cost-effective marketing effort” that includes internet and social media efforts, new route and schedule brochures, train station signage, and community outreach programs.
Today, for example, the WTD is handing out brochures — and free coffee — at Westport’s train stations.
Early next month, they’ll unveil a “transit info kiosk” at the Senior Center. It will contain brochures and information about all Westport transportation options, from WTD buses to shared-ride services and taxis.
“We haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Ross says. (It’s unclear whether his pun was intentional or not.)
“But this is a bit of proof that if we get information out to people, they realize there’s a need. This isn’t the Friends of the Library. It’s not a charity. It’s public transportation, which is as un-sexy as it gets. But it is a service. Citizens are showing that they want it.
“If town officials really commit to this — if they move from a discussion of ‘Should we have it?’ to ‘This is a town gem’ — we can really move forward.”
As budget season begins, the wheels on Westport’s bus service are clearly on a roll.