Peter Gold is director of the Westport Transit District. He is also a member of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting, and sits on its Transit Committee. He abstained from last night’s committee vote on WTD funding, because of that conflict of interest.
Writing in his capacity as Transit Director, he reports on last night’s meeting:
By a vote of 8 to 0, the RTM Transit Committee voted to recommend that the full RTM restore all funds the Board of Finance cut from the Westport Transit District’s Wheels2U budget. Wheels2U is the Westport Transit District’s on-demand, door-to-train platform shuttle service.
Approval of 70% of the full RTM present and voting at its May 1 meeting is needed to restore the Wheels2U funding. Before that, the RTM’s Finance Committee will meet April 26 to decide whether to recommend that the RTM approve restoring the funding.
RTM Transit Committee members noted Wheels2U’s growing ridership. Ridership is projected to exceed 26,000 rides in the current fiscal year ending on June 30. Members also noted the environmental and economic benefits, traffic reduction and service to residents that Wheels2U provides.
Peter Gold, director of the Westport Transit District, reported that Wheels2U will use over 45% fewer gallons of fuel and drive 56% fewer miles this fiscal year than in fiscal year 2019, the last year with the old fixed route system. He also noted that unlike the old fixed route system, Wheels2U covers the entire town and meets all peak hour trains in the morning and evening.
Members made suggestions to reduce Wheels2U’s cost to the town. They include raising the fare from $2, investigating other sources of revenue, and increasing marketing for Wheels2U to help bring in more riders.
The RTM received over 200 letters to date in favor of restoring the funding, with 6 opposed. Many were from people who chose to move to Westport in the last 2 years instead of to other Fairfield County towns, partly because of Wheels2U.
Others were from families with young children but without a second car, who rely on Wheels2U to get to the train. Others were from people who rely on Wheels2U to get to their jobs in town.
Committee members as well as the members of the public who spoke at the meeting felt strongly that the town administration needs to take a more active role in dealing with the town’s transportation and mobility needs.
A suggestion was made that the selectwomen’s office form a task force to look holistically at the town’s transit and mobility needs, with a sufficient budget to enable it to obtain any necessary expertise to deal with these issues.
Several members felt it would be beneficial to have the town establish a permanent paid position to deal with the town’s transit, traffic, parking and mobility issues.
Possible benefits of looking at transit issues on a regional basis was also discussed. However, many committee members felt that having local control over transit is crucial to ensure town residents’ needs for local transportation are met.
(More information about Wheels2U and the budget process can be found here.)
Wheels2U is an important ingredient in what makes Westport a great Town to live in and move to. It is very difficult to envision this Town without a public transit component to help citizens in need. The Town’s need for affordable housing goes hand in hand with a Town transportation system.
How will the dissolution of the City of Norwalk’s Transit Service impact Westport transportation services and ridership?
Are not the reasons the City of Norwalk has determined it is no long prudent to fund their transit system analogous to the funding issues here in Westport?
Given the current trend in the rising use of transportation alternatives provided by Lyft and Uber, how likely is a future increase in Westport Transit ridership?
A coherent and efficient public transportation system is fundamental to nearly every aspect of Westport’s future. But W2U is not the way get us there.
Westport used to have fixed-route services that provided seven times more rides than the current W2U empty bus model. That service was improperly eliminated by volunteer Westport Transit District directors and Norwalk Transit District.
Some of those fixed routes should be restored so we can connect more densely populated neighborhoods and business centers with the rail and Coastal link bus service. Maybe we could have W2U as well, but efficiently connecting our denser population areas and business centers with regional transportation should take priority.
Given our transportation needs and issues Westport simply doesn’t have the adequate expertise. We should therefore discontinue the outdated volunteer Transit District model that the RTM continues to fund. At the same time, the state for obvious reasons doesn’t have the funding to continue to pay for seven different Transit Districts operating in the same densely populated corner of our state. That’s why last years legislation – to consolidate transit districts – received overwhelming bi-partisan support.
Times have changed. Westport needs to change with them. Norwalk Transit District – which for decades has gotten a much better financial deal for themselves than for Westport Transit District – should step aside so CTTransit can operate a more coherent and efficient public transportation service for both Westport and Norwalk like they do in dozens of other communities across the state. And the RTM should stop trying to pretend that “next year will be different” by continuing to both oversee and fund a dysfunctional and inefficient transit district.
W2U is a great service. We can’t just assume public transport will get better, but lets cut this first and see what happens. We can’t just assume people can afford a 2nd or 3rd car. We can’t just assume that everyone that doesn’t have access to a car can get “an Uber of Lyft”. There are times of the year when residents and families will truly benefit from the flexibility that WSU offer. My family certainly has. I have.
We live in such a progressive town yet we have such dysfunctional public transit.
The W2U is a great service, an even better app, and a good option for some people – often young people.
We should be putting our heads together on how to get the word out and make the usage better. I cannot speak more highly about this.
If we want to save some $$$$s then as an individual Board of Ed member I would tell you to look at the $7.7m projected budget for our school buses in 2023/24. I think we are wasting AT LEAST $1 million here. Elementary school buses are different, but there are multiple opportunities to look at greater efficiencies – sooner rather than later in my view – with a lot of excess and unused capacity at the middle and high school routes.
Bravo to the RTM Transportation Committee once again for seeking to protect the W2U service!
I am proud to support this.
If I had a tree for every time Jennifer Johnson was wrong, I would have saved and restored the Amazon.
The state has shown what it is capable of when it comes to transportation: CTFastrak & and electric buses.
It’s totally understandable why so many people like the W2U service. It’s great to have a bus show up and take people to the train for $2. Who wouldn’t want that, especially when it’s being packaged as “transit” and “green”. It’s just that Westport as a whole needs to decide if a micro-transit service like W2U is the best approach for a heavily traffic congested town.
For decades Westport has benefited from the State funding the lion’s share of the costs of maintaining separate Transit Districts. But given that the air quality and traffic in southwest CT is among the worst in the country, the State is rightly looking into making transportation more efficient and coherent for everyone who lives or works here. All while costing tax payers less money. To me this seems like a idea worth exploring especially given how little progress Westport has made on the topic in the last two decades.
While I don’t agree with everything CTTransit is doing, it’s clear that the communities around Hartford – including door-to-door riders – are benefiting from a coordinated multi-modal transportation service network….which is a far cry from what we currently have here.