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Westport Voices Concerns Over Proposed Shuttle Cuts

WESTPORT, Conn. – Plans made by the Westport Board of Finance to consolidate the Westport Transit commuter lines into one came under scrutiny Monday night by residents and advocates of public transportation.

During a final review of the proposed town and school budgets, the Board of Finance unanimously voted March 28 to reduce the proposed Transit District budget of $248,000 by more than $113,000.

Citing high costs to maintain the shuttle system and low ridership, the board recommended the transit district cut all commuter lines, except shuttles to and from the Imperial Avenue parking lot and the Saugatuck train station. This would mean a commuter without a railroad parking permit must park at the Imperial Avenue lot, which is free, and take a shuttle to the station.

Representative Town Meeting member Eileen Flug said reducing Westport’s commuter lines down to one is flawed. She said not all Westport families have two cars and, therefore, might not be able to drive to the commuter lot to catch a shuttle to the train station.

“These families, if we kill the bus routes, they’re going to have to buy another car,” Flug said at Monday night’s RTM Transit District committee meeting. “We are in the vanguard of being an environmental community, and at this point in time when gas prices are sky-high, do we want to be known as the community that killed public transit in our town?”

Resident Carolin Sigal, whose husband takes a shuttle to the train station, agreed. She said she and her husband, who own one car, settled on Westport seven years ago because of the town’s shuttle service, which allows her husband to catch a shuttle near their home.

Worried the shuttles will be reduced, she said she and her husband have recently signed up to be on the town’s railroad parking permit wait list.

“By diminishing this service, you’re hurting the fabric of this town,” Sigal said.

Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner said the intention is not to eliminate the shuttle system but to consolidate it. Reducing lines to one route to and from the Imperial Avenue parking lot seemed like the most logical way to do that, he said. However, he said the board did not take into account single-car families when it voted to reduce the transit district budget.

Although the finance board recommended the cut in commuter lines, Bud Titsworth, co-director of the transit district, said it’s up to the transit district to decide how funds are allocated. This means, if the $113,000 is not restored to the budget, the transit district can decide to cut after-school shuttles instead of consolidating commuter lines.

“You should know that our priorities, of the three constituents we serve, are people trying get to and from work, the elderly and children getting to after-school programs — in that order,” Titsworth said.

The Transit District, he added, will be seeking full restoration during Wednesday night’s Board of Finance meeting.

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