Tonight, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement regarding the Westport Transit District:
In response to the “06880” story regarding transit service for some of our after-school programs, I would like to provide additional information on this evolving situation and update Westporters as to what your elected representatives and transit directors have been doing to find both short and long term solutions to this unexpected event.
In early July the Federal Transit Administration notified the Norwalk Transit District of its determination that the after-school bus service that NTD operates on behalf of Westport is an unauthorized public transit service route. The stops and clientele primarily involve students and, as such, the service was deemed equivalent to a “school bus service” and thus was “non-compliant” with Federal transit regulations.
Without getting into a long explanation of those regulations, suffice it to say that NTD and the Westport Transit District were given only 30 days to present a plan to become compliant or lose Federal funding (approximately 65% of the total program cost) for these after-school routes and the use of the NTD buses.
This program has successfully operated for over 30 years in Westport. The program had recently passed its triennial Federal review, so its sudden disqualification came as a surprise. Unfortunately, the short time frame given to address the problem does not give us time to develop a solution in a manner which would meet the new federal interpretation of the regulations. Ultimately this may not be possible at all.
As soon as we were alerted to the problem by the NTD, the Selectman’s Office, in conjunction with State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and the Westport Transit directors, began a multi-avenue effort to find solutions. With the new school year upon us, and with hundreds of students, their parents and the programs counting on this service, our first and primary initiative has been to obtain a stay of this ruling. We are seeking a 5-month extension of our funding and continued use of the buses until January 1, 2015 so that an alternative solution can be found.
Toward this end, we have formally applied for an extension to the appropriate FTA administrator as well as to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is supporting our appeal. We have also been working closely with our state and federal representatives. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Congressman Himes have all signed a joint letter to the FTA strongly supporting Westport’s request for an extension.
Today I received a phone call from the FTA administrator in response to our letters and phone calls. She informed me that relevant FTA officials will meet tomorrow (Tuesday) to review our request, and expect to give us a response no later than this Wednesday.
In the interim, we have been exhaustively examining all other options to provide alternate service through other bus service providers in the region. The unfortunate reality is that, at this late date, most bus service providers are fully utilized at the time of the day when we would need 3 more buses to provide the service. There is very little additional bus capacity in our area at this moment.
If our request for an extension is granted, our objective will be to find a way to restructure our current program so that it is considered “compliant” by the FTA. Alternatively, by working with programs and families, we can seek to find an alternative method of providing after-school transit services.
Hopefully on Wednesday we will have a positive response from the FTA so that we will not have to deal with the disruption and difficulty that the immediate cessation of this important service will cause. I will keep you informed.