The Westport Transit District is a vital, inexpensive and environmentally sound part of local life.
It provides on-demand, group ride, door-to-door service between homes and offices, and the town’s 2 train stations, plus door-to-door transportation for seniors and citizens with disabilities.
It’s also underutilized, underpublicized and — despite being a minuscule part of the town budget — a frequent target of financial watchdogs every spring.
Recently, Connecticut legislators formed a task force to study the consolidation of local and regional transit districts.
Last night, the Representative Town Meeting’s Transit Committee discussed possible implications for Westport, and — more broadly — transportation priorities for Westport.
Emil Frankel grew up in Fairfield, spent 30 years in Weston (including 2 on the Board of Selectmen), and lived briefly in Westport. He served as state Transportation Commissioner under Governor Lowell Weicker, and again as interim commissioner under Governor Jodi Rell.
Frankel and his wife Kathryn now live in Washington. He served there at the US Department of Transportation, under president George W. Bush.
Frankel sent this letter to RTM Transit Committee members, before last night’s meeting:
I hope that you will not consider it inappropriate or intrusive for me to express my views about a matter which the Westport RTM is currently considering, that is, the future of the Westport Transit District.
During my tenure as Connecticut Transportation Commissioner under Governor Weicker in the early 1990s and again, when I served for a few months under Governor Rell, as interim transportation commissioner, I have consistently taken the position that there are far too many transit districts in the state and that they should be consolidated and merged.
Indeed, during my time as interim commissioner, Peter Stangl, a native of Connecticut and the former head of Metro-North Railroad and of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who was working with me, and I specifically recommended to Governor Rell that she propose that Connecticut follow the model of NJ Transit and merge all of the state’s 20 or so transit districts into a single Connecticut Transit.
More recently, as a member of Governor Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel, I joined my colleagues in recommending the consolidation of transit districts (as well as of the State’s 11 or 13 Metropolitan Planning Organizations).
The transit districts are an accident of history: As private bus companies failed and went bankrupt in the 1950s and 1960s, local governments (and in the case of what is now Connecticut Transit, the state) took over these services.
The result today is a multiplicity of too many, too small, and under-resourced providers of bus transit services. It is wasteful of taxpayer money and, in most cases, leads to fragmented, disconnected, and inadequate bus services for those who depend on transit systems for the quality of their lives and for their ability to work.
Obviously, you are not considering such a statewide consolidation of bus services at the Westport RTM, but any incremental step that moves in that direction, such as the termination of the Westport Transit District and/or its merger or consolidation into a larger and more efficient transit system should, in my opinion, be adopted by the RTM.
Such action would be a significant step toward more effective and financially responsible bus transit services for the town of Westport, for the region, and for the state.