[OPINION] Regional Transit Districts: A Move In The Right Direction

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.

Emil Frankel

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.

7 responses to “[OPINION] Regional Transit Districts: A Move In The Right Direction

  1. Emil’s right and nobody knows the issue better than he. It’s high time we corrected this inefficient system and provide public transportation that people can rely upon and will use. That would be a major contribution to alleviating the otherwise insoluble traffic problems which everyone recognizes are getting worse.

  2. Thank you for your far reaching and far sighted vision, Emil, however, where have you addressed the local immediate need:
    “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.”

  3. The service is well intentioned but it’s underutilized – aka, costs alot of $ for the value it delivers to too few people. No town (or country for that matter) can spend spend spend without discipline and a hard look at the return delivered to the broader community.
    Would you rather this “minuscule” spend be continued or re-directed to our school system where many more families & young children would benefit. OR (novel idea) pocket the $ for a future need that benefits the town?!

  4. Michael Calise

    The difference between Government Enterprise and Private Enterprise never ceases to amaze me. Government can grow by charging the taxpayer for the cost of running the ship no supporting customer base required. Private Enterprise has to develop a profitable customer base to finance the growth.

  5. Clark Thiemann

    As an infrequent traveler to NYC at rush hour, I only used the Wheels 2 U shuttle for the first time a few weeks ago and 1.) it was great! 2.) it seemed super inefficient (a mid-sized bus picked me up at my house and drove me by myself to the train station for $2). Anything we can do to preserve and improve public transportation in an efficient way that serves as many people as possible seems ideal. If limiting the number of individual transit districts will help, I’m on board.

  6. In the 1960’s, the New York Times ran an article where a reporter traveled from Wilmington DE to New Haven using local bus services. The bus through Westport was by far the worst, according to the reporter. I don’t know if the CR&L lines was offering the servicer then. (The Connecticut Rail & Lighting Service lines were from a time when electric utilities owned streetcar lines–in this case United Illuminating). In the entire time we lived in Westport, 1955-62, we never once took a bus. In 1967, a friend of mine joined me in taking a bus from the then Bridgeport RR station to JFK stadium to see a Jets-Patriots exhibition game and I recall how abysmal the busses were.

  7. I grew up in Westport in the 1950s – Bedford Elementary, Bedford Jr High, the old Staples – and took the bus to Bridgeport for weekly elocution classes and to Norwalk to the dentist, then went home by changing buses to Richmondville Ave, My high school bus was a public bus as well. Of course, that was a different era, with Mom-Pop stores and a general Pull up your socks and get on with it philosophy.

    I am surprised by the lack of an outpouring of support for Westport’s Transit System, particularity since Westport was a very early benevolent advocate of affordable housing, 8-30G. Isn’t it implicitly recognized and accepted that folks who need affordable housing would need transportation?