Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 11, 8 p.m., Town Hall), the Board of Finance votes on restoration of $113,000 to the $248,000 budget for the Westport Transit District.
Cuts were made last year. Ridership went down. Now, with ridership down, further cuts are proposed.
Westport resident, lawyer and commuter Evan Barr is not pleased. He makes these points:
The per-rider cost of $4527.63 sounds like a lot of money. But public transit is not about profit. It’s a public service that almost always must be significantly subsidized. It should not have to “pay for itself.”
The town should consider the consequence of eliminating bus service. Some people will have to buy a second car, and pay to park it, operate it, insure it. Families with only 1 car will have to arrange their schedules around station drop-offs and pick-ups.
Nearly everyone in Westport says they favor green initiatives. This no-brainer opportunity to reduce traffic and air pollution, at a relatively minor cost of $114,000 (out of an overall town budge of $74 million) gets voted down – even though the town plan adopted a few years ago advocates increasing routes and enhancing ridership.
We have relatively inexpensive parking costs at the Saugatuck lot, compared to others in the region, so we encourage people to drive to the station. Maybe, as one former RTM member said, we should increase cost of parking in the Saugatuck lot to subsidize the bus system.
Meanwhile, camaraderie exists among shuttle bus riders. It gives folks who live in the same part of town a chance to talk with their neighbors — which never happens in separate vehicles.
Virtually everyone I spoke to who uses the bus said they would happily pay a higher fare if that would help reduce the deficit and save the system. Most said they would pay twice the current $1.50. Norwalk Transit has apparently been inflexible in refusing to explore this possibility. If necessary, Westport should hire a consultant and find another vendor to provide the service.
After cutbacks — resulting from budget cuts — the one route left (Imperial) is basically useless. Most people would have to drive to the lot to take the bus. Once in your car, you’re probably inclined to just drive down to the station. Keeping Imperial is of symbolic value only.
If the system goes under, it’s unlikely we can reconstitute another any time soon. If the budget cut goes through we also walk away from $400,000 in state subsidy. Good luck getting those funds back.
The current system is far from perfect. But it’s far better to tinker with it than to scrap it entirely.