A Wheels2U shuttle at Saugatuck Station./ Photo by Thane Grauel
A Wheels2U shuttle. /File photo

Dear Representative Town Meeting:

On Tuesday, the RTM will address the Transit subcommittee’s recommendation for a Westport Transit District co-director to serve a four-year term. You should vote ‘no’ on the subcommittee’s recommendation. Before installing a co-director, the full RTM must first decide whether the WTD should be consolidated with another transit district (as per CT Public Law 22-40), or continue in its present form and thereby risk losing state funding.   

Unfortunately, the Transit subcommittee dodged that issue and instead (in a closed-door session) selected a co-director candidate who lacks any direct prior involvement or relevant experience on any of the big issues facing the WTD (including consolidation). To use an old-school transit metaphor, this is “putting the cart before the horse.”

Jennifer Johnson speaks Wednesday at the online meeting of the Flood and Erosion Control Board.
Jennifer Johnson.

WTD is at a crossroads. In May 2022, Public Law 22-40 was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support. Under PL 22-40, the RTM has until early 2025 either to: (1) merge WTD operations with another Transit District (Norwalk, Bridgeport, or CT Transit) thereby joining a fully-staffed agency in which WTD co-directors would have voting authority as board members or (2) not merge and face state funding cuts. The clock is ticking. 

A decision on consolidation should be done in cooperation with the first selectwoman and other impacted boards and commissions. Appointing someone to a four-year term as co-director needs to be considered in context of this major decision. Is a new co-director going to be a board member with voting authority over important transit decisions facing Westport for four years? Or is this co-director just going to serve as an unpaid staff person to support the current director? The co-director should at a minimum be someone from within the town government, or at least someone currently appointed by the first selectwoman on a related town board or commission.

The next four years are important. Historic levels of funding for transit improvements (from the federal bi-partisan infrastructure act) are available for entities that are poised to use them effectively. The Hartford greater region, for example, is repeatedly awarded capital funds as a nationally recognized “Walk Friendly Community.”  CT Transit Services was recently awarded a $26.4 million federal grant to support its mission for communities around Stamford.  

Public Law 22-40 gives the Westport RTM an “exit ramp” which you should discuss, debate and vote on. Regardless of that vote, the RTM should not select a new WTD co-director until we have a better understanding of the direction and future of our Transit District for the next four years and beyond. 

Sincerely,

Jennifer Johnson

Former WTD co-director & RTM District 9 Representative