Tag Archives: Westport Transit District

Sam Goodman: A Bronx Tale

Sam Goodman spent the first 15 years of his life in the Bronx.

But in 1966 his parents read a New York Times story. “Grand Concourse: Hub of Bronx is Undergoing Ethnic Changes” described white flight from the borough, as African Americans moved in.

Sam’s mother Blossom took the article to her congressman, James H. Scheuer. His advice: move.

Three months later, the Goodmans bought a house in Westport.

The Bronx was certainly changing. When Sam became a bar mitzvah in 1965, his temple had 3,000 families. Three years later it was sold to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, for less money than it cost to build — in 1924.

His father Arthur called himself a “Bronx refugee.” Not only were people urged to leave, Sam says. “Police were telling people how not to be victims of crime. Garbage was picked up less often. The city abandoned the parks.”

Bronx borough seal

It was, in New York Housing Commissioner Roger Starr’s famous phrase, “planned shrinkage”: the deliberate withdrawal of city services to blighted neighborhoods, as a means of coping with dwindling tax revenues.

Between 1970 and ’80, Sam says, 303,000 people “disappeared from” the Bronx.

Most people know about the fires, he continues. But most do not realize that landlords paid money to have them set. The insurance they collected was far more than the buildings were worth.

Sam found Westport to be “absolutely amazing — great. People were friendly and outgoing. They enjoyed life. There was a lot of space.”

Coming from an apartment, he thought he lived in a huge house. In retrospect, he realizes, it was small for Westport.

Sam made friends fast. He thrived at Long Lots Junior High School, then Staples.

High school was where he learned to think, and develop a philosophy of life. Principal Jim Calkins encouraged students to stand up for what they believed in.

His parents, and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron Rubenstein, were enormous influences too.

The Temple Israel confirmation class of 1969. Sam is 4th from left in the top row, next to Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein.

Sam’s involvement in Project Concern (bringing Bridgeport youngsters to Westport schools) and the Staples Governing Board (a unique, powerful collaboration between administrators, teachers and students) taught Sam about the importance of being a citizen. Done right, he says, “government works.”

At Kenyon College, Sam majored in political science. After graduation he returned to Westport to take care of his mother, who was sick. He drove school buses, Minnybuses and MaxiTaxis.

Sam earned a master’s in urban management and municipal planning from the University of Bridgeport, then spent 10 years as executive director of the Westport Transit District.

As Westport Transit District executive director, Sam Goodman was in charge of the Minnybus system. The hub and transfer point was Jesup Green.

But Sam could never forget the Bronx — or the political policies that had obliterated it.

In 1995 he got a job as an urban planner for the Bronx borough president. He’s been in that position ever since.

But it’s his side gig — Bronx tour guide — where Sam really shines.

He leads tours for the Municipal Art Society, Art Deco Society of New York, New York Adventure Club and Einstein Medical Center (for new pre-med students).

The tours cover history, architecture, urban planning, the politics and finances of rent control, and more.

Beautiful architecture remains in the Bronx.

As Sam talks, fields questions and shepherds groups in and out of buildings, they’re amazed. “People know pieces of the story,” he says. “But they’ve never heard it all connected. It gives them a new perspective. They can really appreciate what happened.”

Of course — the Bronx being less than an hour from here — Sam has Westporters on his tours.

One woman grew up there, but had not been back in many years. “She wanted to learn,” Sam says. “People told her she was crazy to go the Bronx.”

That’s a common stereotype. But, he notes, folks on his tours “see how pretty it is, and how friendly people are.” One man regularly invites Sam’s groups into his apartment — and gives them chocolates.

The Bronx today.

The “stigma hangover” lingers, though. “People still imagine it as it was in the 1970s and ’80s,” Sam says.

“The median income is low. There are many challenges,” he admits. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. It’s cleaner. There’s less crime than ever. People here are striving for something beautiful.”

His own co-op — of which Sam is treasurer — just spent $1 million to restore the lobby. Many other apartment buildings are being renovated.

His 1-bedroom is 900 square feet. He has parking, a doorman, and can get to midtown in 20 minutes. You could buy it for $300,000.

Sam Goodman in his Bronx apartment. A poster from Westport’s bicentennial celebration hangs on the wall behind Sam.

Prices like that attract young professionals from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Their mortgage and maintenance is half of what they pay for a small studio there.

Yet if you can’t take the Bronx out of Sam, you can’t remove Westport either.

He still owns the home he inherited from his parents. (He rents it out. A few years ago, he says proudly, his tenants’ twin sons were Staples’ valedictorian and salutatorian.)

Occasionally he takes the train here, rents a car and drives around. Westport, Sam says, “gets more beautiful each year.”

The Bronx tour guide — and one of its biggest boosters — concludes, “Westport still lives inside of me. It gave me the chance to grow into the person I am today.”

That person is a proud Bronx booster. There’s a lot more to the borough than just the Yankees.

Sam Goodman can tell you all about it. Just ask.

Or take his tour.

(Hat tip: Susan Thomsen)

[OPINION] Transit Directors Seek Budget Restoration

Last month, the Board of Finance cut the Westport Transit District’s funding request. The WTD is preparing a restoration request for the Representative Town Meeting. Today, directors Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa lay out their case.

The Westport Transit District provides bus service with minibuses operated under subcontract with the Norwalk Transit District. It operates 7 commuter shuttle routes to and from the Saugatuck and Greens Farms rail stations, and provides daytime Door-to-Door transportation for seniors and residents with disabilities. (Information on these services, including routes, schedules and fares, can be found here: WestportTransit.org.)

Westport Transit budgeted about $575,000 in state funding for the commuter shuttles for the 2020 fiscal year starting in July. We requested an additional $238,000 from Westport to cover the remaining cost of the commuter shuttles not covered by fares.

A Westport Transit District shuttle rider.

On March 12, Westport’s Board of Finance cut the Town’s financial support for the commuter shuttles by $115,000, approximately half the Westport support necessary to operate the current shuttle routes for the coming fiscal year. (No changes were made to the Door-to-Door component of the WTD’s FY20 budget.)  The Board of Finance affirmed its decision to cut the commuter shuttle funding at its April 3 meeting.

Consistent with the provisions of the Town Charter, the Westport Transit District will ask the Representative Town Meeting to restore the $115,000 in town funding at the RTM’s May 6 meeting. Should the cut not be restored, it’s likely that most or all of the town’s commuter shuttle service would be eliminated by the end of the calendar year – and Westport would lose over $500,000 of state support for the commuter shuttles. (Door-to-Door services will not be affected.)

The Transit District’s April 3rd presentation to the Board of Finance sets out why we asked the Board of Finance to restore the $115,000 it cut from Westport’s funding of the commuter shuttles.

These are also the basis for the WTD’s request to the RTM to restore the full town funding of this community service. Among the reasons is the strong support for fully funding the commuter shuttles expressed by Westport residents in the 2018 townwide survey on Westport’s bus services, completed by 1,700 residents.

More detailed information about the Westport Transit District’s operations, current initiatives, and findings of the 2018 Town-wide survey can be found in the WTD’s March 12 presentation to the Board of Finance.

The RTM Transit Committee meets this Wednesday (April 24). The RTM Finance Committee meeting — when the budget restoration request will be discussed — is this Thursday (April 25).

Westport residents can make their opinion about the future of the commuter shuttles known by contacting RTM members at RTMMailingList@westportct.gov, and speaking at the May 6 RTM meeting.

 

Transit District Asks: What Do You Think?

How’re we doin’?

The Westport Transit District wants to know.

This morning, officials unveiled a survey for Westport residents, Saugatuck and Greens Farms train riders, and commuter shuttle users.

The goal is to understand evolving transportation preferences, including:

  • Measuring satisfaction levels with WTD services
  • Measuring awareness of WTD options
  • Eliciting input on potential new services, and
  • Measuring the perceived importance of WTD offerings.

An email from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe invited residents to participate in the survey. Postcards with links to the survey have been distributed to shuttle riders, by drivers.

Take the bus to the train? What do you think?

Two years ago, a similar survey drew over 1,400 responses.

Need an incentive to fill out the survey? The Naan and Rizzuto restaurants are offering $100 gift certificates, to 2 respondents picked at random.

To take the survey, click here. For more information, click here or call WTD director Marty Fox: 917-612-6982.

All A(bill)board!

Last month, the Westport Transit District announced a new commuter shuttle marketing campaign.

Unlike many Metro-North trains, it arrived on time.

Recently — with the help of Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his team — the WTD installed new billboards at the Saugatuck and Greens Farms railroad station.

They’re eye-catching. And clever.

A much-needed route map helps too:

The WTD is also placing 5 x 7 route and information cards all around town: the stations, coffee shops, library, Town Hall and at real estate agencies, to name a few.

Meanwhile, they’ve sent emails to railroad parking permit holders, those on the wait list, and the Westport Parks and Recreation list. Those have generated interest in the WestportTransit.org website, which includes schedules and instructions on how to download the MyStop app. (Yes, it takes you to the Norwalk Transit District site. You’re in the right place.)

The Westport Transit District is making all the right moves to boost ridership.

Plus, those billboards give you something to look at while you wait for that overdue train.

Train Station Shuttle Adds App, Rolls Out Marketing Campaign

Westporters watch steadily increasing traffic in Saugatuck. With plans for more development in the area, and possible modernization of the Cribari Bridge, we worry there’s more to come.

Meanwhile, Waze and other apps contribute to clogged side streets everywhere, as commuters seek alternatives to the jammed-up Merritt Parkway, I-95 and Post Road.

For years, Metro-North riders have been able to ease the hassle by taking shuttle buses to the train station. But many potential customers are unaware of routes or options. Others don’t even know they exist.

The Westport Transit District has launched a marketing campaign to fix that. It involves emails, posters and route cards.

It also includes the rollout of a new MyStop app. Users track shuttles in real time, so they can step out of their house moments before it arrives. MyStop is available in the iPhone and Android stores, or by clicking here.

A screen shot of the myStop app shows Westport routes — and the location of the nearest shuttle.

The email portion of the marketing campaign targets railroad parking permit holders, people on the wait list, and those on the Parks and Recreation list. Messages will be sent this coming week, with follow-up emails planned for early next year.

The posters and cards — showing shuttle routes and other info — will be placed at the train stations, and throughout town.

The campaign was developed by Westport advertising executive Rob Feakins. Jyoti Dasgupta added fresh designs. The Railroad Parking Division is assisting the Westport Transit District with the initiative.

Look for the emails, posters and cards. Download the app. Try the shuttle.

It won’t make all the traffic go away. But perhaps your trip to the train will be a little less miserable.

 

 

Take The Bus To The Train? Here’s What Westporters Think.

Last night, the Westport Transit District released the results of last month’s survey on its services, and public satisfaction with them.

It’s a mixed picture, for sure.

According to Julien Beresford of Beresford Research, who explained the numbers last night at Town Hall, 1539 surveys were collected. Thirty-nine were from employees living outside of Westport. They were excluded from the analysis — so the results are based on exactly 1,500 answers.

The survey provides an interesting snapshot of commuting patterns.

Apart from train riders, only 21% of other Westporters commute more than 10 miles to work.

Of those whose commute is longer than 10 miles, 63% ride Metro-North. Another 34% drive their own car. That leaves only 2% to take the Coastal Link bus, 1% who carpool, and 1% who answered “other.” (Bike? Uber? Boat?)

Commuters using the Westport Transit District shuttle service.

Commuters using the Westport Transit District shuttle service.

Respondents are generally aware of the scheduled bus service to and from Westport’s train stations (81%), but much less so for door-to-door on-request bus service for seniors (28%) and for those with disabilities (25%).

Just under half of train riders (47%) have considered taking the bus to the train stations. Of those who have “considered” it, 66% have actually done so.

68% of bus riders are “strongly satisfied” with the service. Another 26% are “somewhat satisfied.” That’s 94% of all bus riders, in total.

The top 5 reasons for riding the bus:

  • The cost is reasonable (94%)
  • The scheduled bus service meets my morning train (67%)
  • Contributes to reducing traffic congestion (59%)
  • I don’t have to drive (57%)
  • The scheduled bus service meets my evening train (57%)

But 38% of bus riders dislike riding it, because buses meet only certain trains. Another 35% say that “sometimes the bus isn’t available when I need it.”

Nearly 3/5ths (57%) of train riders who do not take the bus believe one of the routes could benefit them.

westport-transit-district-logo

Just over half of train riders (53%) are aware of free parking at the Imperial Avenue pickup/dropoff lot. Learning about free parking interests 28% of those who were previously unaware of it. 22% would be more likely to try it if the bus were also free.

Of the 73% who are “not at all likely” to try the Imperial lot — and the 15% and 9% “slightly” or “moderately” likely, respectively — the overwhelming reasons were “it takes less time to drive myself” (68%) and “don’t want to drive, then take bus/train” (53%).

As for public bus service: It’s not a major reason for new residents to move to Westport. The top reasons 5 cited (and remember, this was a commuter survey):

  • Compo Beach (82%)
  • Train service to New York City (76%)
  • Public school system (72%)
  • Distance to New York City (54%)
  • Specific property purchased/rented (46%)

Regarding the value of low-cost bus service to the community, 63% feel that service is “quite” or “extremely” important for persons with disabilities. Support is lower — just 43% — for seniors.

Finally, 59% agree that the commuter bus service should be supported by town funds. 29% disagree.

1,500 Westporters have spoken. To add your voice, click “Comments” below.

Westport Transit District bus

 

Westport Transit: What Do You Think?

Cut back on Westport Transit District service. It’s a waste of money!

Add to Westport Transit District service. We need more buses in town!

Those 2 polar opposite opinions — and everything else in between — are what you hear when Westporters talk about our public transit system.

If they talk about it at all.

For those reasons — to get an accurate read on needs and usage, as well as to raise awareness that we actually have a Westport Transit District — local officials have launched a survey.

Working with Westport-based Beresford Research, WTD directors Patsy Cimarosa and Marty Fox designed questions aimed at 4 key constituencies. Westport commuters who use shuttle buses to the train station; those who don’t; non-commuters, and people who work in Westport all have a chance to weigh in on current and future transit options.

Commjuters using the Westport Transit District shuttle service.

Commuters board the Westport Transit District shuttle service at Imperial Avenue.

The survey will include questions about current services (including train shuttles and the lesser-known door-to-door rides for elderly and disabled Westporters); priorities going forward, and public awareness of what’s offered.

The survey — one of the best designed and most comprehensive that I’ve seen like this — is being emailed to residents on the railroad parking and waiting lists, as well as other citizens. A hard copy will be available at the Senior Center.

But you can take the survey now. Just click here.

To encourage participation, the Vine Room and 323 restaurant offer $100 gift certificates in random drawings.

westport-transit-district-logoThat’s nice — but every Westporter should participate without being pushed. Given the current traffic in town, more changes coming near the station in Saugatuck, and the budget decisions we always face, all of our voices should be heard.

Westporters Urge Restoration Of Transit Funds

On Saturday, I posted a plea from a Westporter who can’t drive. He’s looking for help getting to and from the library.

Westport TransitCoincidentally, 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.

Westport Transit District bus

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.

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)

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.

Jim Marpe: Federal Response To Transit District Request Coming Soon

Tonight, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement regarding the Westport Transit District:

In response to the “06880” story regarding transit service for some of our after-school programs, I would like to provide additional information on this evolving situation and update Westporters as to what your elected representatives and transit directors have been doing to find both short and long term solutions to this unexpected event.

In early July the Federal Transit Administration notified the Norwalk Transit District of its determination that the after-school bus service that NTD operates on behalf of Westport is an unauthorized public transit service route. The stops and clientele primarily involve students and, as such, the service was deemed equivalent to a “school bus service” and thus was “non-compliant” with Federal transit regulations.

Without getting into a long explanation of those regulations, suffice it to say that NTD and the Westport Transit District were given only 30 days to present a plan to become compliant or lose Federal funding (approximately 65% of the total program cost) for these after-school routes and the use of the NTD buses.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport's buses.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport’s buses.

This program has successfully operated for over 30 years in Westport. The program had recently passed its triennial Federal review, so its sudden disqualification came as a surprise. Unfortunately, the short time frame given to address the problem does not give us time to develop a solution in a manner which would meet the new federal interpretation of the regulations. Ultimately this may not be possible at all.

As soon as we were alerted to the problem by the NTD, the Selectman’s Office, in conjunction with State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and the Westport Transit directors, began a multi-avenue effort to find solutions. With the new school year upon us, and with hundreds of students, their parents and the programs counting on this service, our first and primary initiative has been to obtain a stay of this ruling. We are seeking a 5-month extension of our funding and continued use of the buses until January 1, 2015 so that an alternative solution can be found.

DOT logoToward this end, we have formally applied for an extension to the appropriate FTA administrator as well as to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is supporting our appeal. We have also been working closely with our state and federal representatives. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Congressman Himes have all signed a joint letter to the FTA strongly supporting Westport’s request for an extension.

Today I received a phone call from the FTA administrator in response to our letters and phone calls.  She informed me that relevant FTA officials will meet tomorrow  (Tuesday) to review our request, and expect to give us a response no later than this Wednesday.

In the interim, we have been exhaustively examining all other options to provide alternate service through other bus service providers in the region. The unfortunate reality is that, at this late date, most bus service providers are fully utilized at the time of the day when we would need 3 more buses to provide the service. There is very little additional bus capacity in our area at this moment.

If our request for an extension is granted, our objective will be to find a way to restructure our current program so that it is considered “compliant” by the FTA.  Alternatively, by working with programs and families, we can seek to find an alternative method of providing after-school transit services.

Hopefully on Wednesday we will have a positive response from the FTA so that we will not have to deal with the disruption and difficulty that the immediate cessation of this important service will cause. I will keep you informed.

Update: Earthplace, Temple Israel, And The Future Of Westport Transit

An “06880” post earlier today reported that the after-school Westport Transit District bus routes serving Earthplace and Temple Israel would be suspended indefinitely.

“06880” has learned that last-ditch negotiations may provide a solution. But time is running out.

EarthplaceThe reason for the suspension of the routes is cessation of federal funds. Because the route is geared to students traveling from schools to afternoon activities — but not run by a school district — it is out of compliance with government regulations.

If the funds are cut, dozens of Westport parents will have to figure how to get their kids to Earthplace programs, and religious education.

One result, of course, would be more cars on the road.

Temple IsraelBroader issues include: What’s the future of the Westport Transit District? How does it fit in with other area organizations? How do we live and move around in town? Is there any role for mass transportation, suburb-style?

A number of folks are working hard, seeking a resolution. State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, First Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle, the WTD’s Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum, along with Earthplace and Temple Israel officials, have pulled many levers seeking a stay of execution — or at least a delay.

There are many layers to this onion. Stay tuned as Westport peels them back, one by one.

A Westport Transit District bus.

A Westport Transit District bus.