On Saturday, I posted a plea from a Westporter who can’t drive. He’s looking for help getting to and from the library.
Coincidentally, tonight (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the RTM votes on whether or not to restore money cut (in a 4-3 vote) by the Board of Finance from the Westport Transit District budget.
The $37,714 would pay for marketing ($20,000) and a professional staffer ($17,714).
Some Westport residents have decried the cuts.
Jim Ross, chair of the Citizen’s Transit Committee, said:
These funds are critical not because of the amount but the formal recognition that transportation issues and policies in Westport requires a dedicated, transit focused support and budget. Congestion, parking, commuting, shopping, pedestrian safety, pollution and so much more affects each of us living and working in Westport.
For far too long, we have relied on the generous volunteer efforts of well-intentioned but inexperienced and time-constrained citizen-advocates to do the job of a transit professional. They have no administrative budget, no staff support, not even a closet to store the transit budget/operational materials that they pay for out of their own pocket. These funds, requested in the first selectman’s budget, are a small but critical first step in addressing, in a meaningful and intelligent way, Westport’s long term and 24/7 transportation issues, planning and operations.
Marketing dollars go to printing schedules, train station/social media/ internet/print media advertising, as well as special transit-related events like the transit kiosk at the Senior Center, ridership surveys and the occasional free commuter coffee at the train stations.
Westport transit issues and operations are a 24/7 reality. With the growing impact of Metro-North, I-95, parking/traffic congestion, pedestrian/driver safety, downtown development and air quality — not to mention general town productivity and quality of life — the part-time staff can bring a continuous focus and transportatio -expertise to bear on the challenges. It is simply too big and impactful on our town and citizens to relegate this to well-intentioned citizen-volunteers.
A Westport Transit District bus, at the YMCA.
Stephen Rockwell Desloge — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — also weighed in:
One of the 6 primary Planning Directives of the Downtown Master Plan is: Improve Traffic Flow and Parking Management. …
There are currently approximately 1600 retail employees who work downtown. If one assumes that at any one time 40-50% of employees are working per shift, an average of approximately 650-800 employees commute to downtown every day. During peak shopping seasons, this increases to about 1200 employees. The addition of 50,000 square feet of new retail space will increase the number of commuting employees to an average of 1200 daily, with peak season approaching 1800 employees.
Parking is a perennial problem for employees and shoppers in downtown Westport. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)
The challenge that the town faces is to substantially increase the number of employees who take public transportation and decrease the number of employees who drive downtown every day. Westport has to stay ahead of the curve on this issue…
This effort takes a substantial and sustained long term marketing effort and a dedicated staff person to assure that every possible avenue is being pursued to achieve the goals as set out in the Downtown Master Plan. The WDMA asks that the RTM approves this $37,000 expenditure.
Darcy Sledge added:
I have been a Westport resident for 25 years. My husband and I used the commuter bus for many years. It was an integral part of our decision to settle in Westport. My husband and I both commuted to NYC , and the bus was a way for us to come and go at different times so that we could juggle our family responsibilities.
Now I am a realtor. I can say with experience: The commuter bus has always been a valuable asset to the town of Westport. It is a huge amenity! It affects resale value, not just for a specific house, but for the town — especially given the waiting list for parking sticker.
This is something that the town needs. Please do not cut funding for this important amenity for our working professionals.
Transit is just one of the funding requests the RTM will consider tonight at Town Hall. If you want to be there, the only way is to drive.
Or taxi or Uber.