Since COVID struck, commuter traffic is down dramatically. Train station parking lots are nearly empty.
But some folks still need Metro-North. Not all of them can — or want to — drive to Saugatuck or Greens Farms. Westport Transit has been an alternative.
But the shuttle service has not worked for everyone. The schedule did not cover all peak trains. Not everyone lives close to the routes. Supply and demand were not always in sync.
On Monday, Westport Transit introduced “Wheels 2U Westport.” The new on-demand, door-to-train platform shuttle service will operate in nearly all of Westport, and provide rides to both the Saugatuck and Greens Farms stations. Riders can be picked up at home or their place of business.
Nearly all of Westport is included in the service area.
The new service will operate weekdays, from 5:45 to 9:45 a.m., and 4 to 8 p.m.
Commuters can schedule rides shortly before their desired pick-up time through an app (click here, or search for “Wheels2U” on the Apple or Google Play store). The $2 fare can be paid via the app or a Metro-North Uniticket (rail and bus pass).
Wheels2U Westport uses Norwalk Transit’s comfortable blue vehicles and white shuttle buses. It replaces Westport Transit’s 7 commuter shuttle routes, and the temporary on-demand commuter service begun in March during COVID.
Norwalk Transit introduced Wheels2U in that city in 2018.
For more information, click here or call 203-852-0000 (choose option 3).
An alert — and frustrated — “06880” reader writes:
When my wife, daughter and I moved to Westport in the 1980s, the main reasons were the schools, and amenities like Longshore.
But another major reason was that my wife’s commute to the city would work (barely). It was about an hour on Metro-North.
However, as the real estate agent explained to us, houses closer to the city cost more. Her rule of thumb was that for every extra minute of commuting time, homes were $10,000 less expensive. For us, Westport was the “sweet spot.”
Commuting looks pleasant in this image. (Photo copyright Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
It now takes about 20 minutes longer to get to New York City by train than it did back then. That means our house (the same one) is worth $200,000 less than it would if the trains ran on the same schedule.
Westport has about 10,000 homes. If they’re worth $200,000 less on average, that means they’ve lost $2 billion in value due to slower trains.
That $10,000 figure was in 1980s housing dollars. It might be 3 times that much now.
And we were looking at lower-priced houses in Westport, so that $10,000 figure for the lower-priced houses in Westport we were considering was probably twice that for higher-priced houses. So perhaps the real cost of slow Metro-North trains might be 6 times as much: $12 billion.
That’s real money!
The train to New York was quicker in 1949 than 2019.
If you ride Metro-North long enough, you see everything.
But until yesterday, Tom Feeley had never seen the Stanley Cup.
The longtime Westporter — whose own sport at Staples High School was wrestling — was heading home on the 4:11. As the train left Grand Central, the conductor said the National Hockey League’s most famous trophy was along for the ride.
Tom thought he was kidding. But sure enough — in Greenwich — a big white-gloved guy walked through, carrying the cup.
It was headed for Stamford. NBC Sports is headquartered there, and they’re promoting the playoffs.
Let’s go to the video!
Most people seem blase. But look closely at the end.
The ticket machines on Metro-North’s New York-bound platform are quick and convenient.
According to one “06880” reader, they’re also a death trap.
She writes: “2 ticket machines are positioned so closely to the open track that if the line exceeds 2 people (as it often does), the 3rd person stands at the edge of the track. Quick purchase of a ticket is also impeded because sunshine obscures the screen.”
She proposes a “no-brainer” solution: moving the machines inside the waiting room.
Oh yeah — one more thing. Our safety-first writer says, “Directly adjacent to the ticket machines is a high-voltage pillar.”
All the more reason to have that 1st cup of coffee before you get to the station!
On March 1, Westporters living near the railroad tracks — and even not so near — started hearing train horns. Loud horns. And lots of them.
Several readers did the natural thing: They asked “06880” what’s up. I contacted my go-to-guy — MTA spokesman and 1994 Staples graduate Aaron Donovan — who reported that it’s part of a Connecticut Department of Transportation project to replace all New Haven Line overhead wires, first installed in 1907.
For the safety of personnel who are on or near the tracks, trains must sound their horns when approaching work zones. Work will continue through September 2017.
Well, at least we knew…
The other day though, an alert — and very frustrated — “06880” reader emailed me. Though no work was being done near Hillspoint Road, equipment had been left near the tracks. For quite a while, engineers had been honking for no reason.
Engineers were honking at this — with no workers in sight.
The reader had called the police, fire department and Metro-North. But the horns kept blaring.
I told her to contact Aaron.
He gave her a number to call — with step-by-step instructions for navigating the dreaded phone tree. Aaron assured her she’d wind up in the right hands.
She did. The Hillspoint resident reports today that the weekend was quiet.
And though work resumed today, things are much better than they were. And she says, “for the first time, they were very helpful.”
Count your blessings. And count the days — just 810! — until September 2017.
The other day, an alert (and noise-sensitive) “06880” reader asked:
Do you have any idea how long the trains are going to blasting their horns through Westport? It started before we went away March 1st. I’m sure they must be getting a lot of complaints.
Though I live a couple of miles from the tracks, I’ve actually heard the horns myself. Well, maybe they’re car horns from drivers trying to navigate the increasingly chaotic Playhouse Square parking lot. Whatever.
I sounded out (ho ho) Aaron Donovan. He’s an MTA spokesman, and — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — a 1994 Staples graduate.
He reported back:
This is a result of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s long-term project to replace all the New Haven Line overhead wires, which were first installed in 1907. These original wires use antiquated “fixed termination” technology, which unfortunately allows the wires to sag ever so slightly during periods of high heat (it isn’t visible to the naked eye) or contract during periods of extreme cold, causing operations problems for trains. The DOT is updating the wires, more formally known as catenary, with a state-of-the-art “constant tension” system that will better accommodate the extreme temperature that can impact our region.
The good news is that this is the very last leg of the project. The DOT recently completed the section between Southport and Bridgeport, and are now turning attention to the section between Norwalk and Southport. In the current phase of the project, DOT’s contractors are out on the tracks digging holes to sink foundations for the gantries from which the new wire system will be suspended. For the safety of all personnel who are on or near the tracks, trains are required to sound their horns when approaching work zones.
The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2017.
Thanks, Aaron! That’s a lot more information than those signs that say “Good Service”!
(To learn even more about the DOT project, click here and here.)
It’s easy to mock Metro-North for those “good service” messages — when, clearly, it’s not, even if the entire East Coast is reeling from one meteorological catastrophe or another.
Today was different.
Alert “06880” reader John Hartwell reports:
It’s just after 10 a.m. I’m taking the train to New Haven to avoid I-95. The platforms are clean and snow-free, and the trains are running on time. We all like to complain about Metro-North, but I’m glad it wasn’t my job to be up early this morning shoveling snow!
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