By John Schwing

WESTPORT — When the Representative Town Meeting’s Transit Committee meets Monday, it will confront a virtual busload of issues clouding the future of public transportation services in town.

In addition to what has become a ritual tug-of-war during the town’s budget-approval process — funds for the Wheels2U Westport shuttle bus service — a second matter poses an uncertain, if not bumpy, ride for the Westport Transit District itself.

That issue is the potential dissolution of the Norwalk Transit District, which is paid by the WTD to manage and operate transit services in town.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, April 17, in Town Hall’s Room 309.

The main order of business is expected to be the effort to restore $291,231 cut from the transit district’s 2023-24 budget for the Wheels2U shuttle bus service, which provides on-demand weekday rides to and from the town’s railroad stations.

Last month, as it has in several past years, the Board of Finance cut all of the funding for the Wheels2U program from the proposed transit budget.

And, as in years past, the RTM is being asked to restore that money by the transit district — which it has agreed to do in previous fiscal face-offs.

But the proposal to dissolve the Norwalk Transit District throws another element of uncertainty into the annual debate over public transportation services in Westport.

The issue moved to the front burner after a bill was filed in the current General Assembly session by Norwalk’s legislative delegation — including state Sen. Robert Duff, the chamber’s Democratic majority leader, and state Rep. Dominique Johnson, whose 143rd District includes part of Westport.

The proposal — now part of the broader Senate Bill 904 — calls for the Norwalk Transit District to be disbanded and its programs and facilities merged into the CT Transit system. That transportation system, managed by the state Department of Transportation, provides bus services in Stamford, New Haven, Waterbury and the Hartford/central region of the state.

In a letter supporting the proposal, the legislators say, “… bus service in Connecticut is fragmented and dispersed through many different transit districts …

“We feel that Norwalk would benefit from eliminating the Norwalk Transit District’s bureaucracy and merging the bus routes into CT Transit. The funds saved can instead be used to improve bus service in Norwalk and the surrounding communities” that include Westport and Wilton.

The legislators note that most of the NTD funding already is provided by the state, another reason they contend a merger would increase efficiency.

If the legislation is approved, the Norwalk Transit District would be dissolved Jan. 1, 2024.

Unmentioned in the proposal, however, is how disbanding Norwalk’s transit agency would affect its client, the Westport Transit District.

“I’m not sure what that means for us,” Peter Gold, the director of the Westport Transit District, said of the proposal in an article published by Connecticut Coastal Times.

“It says that ConnDOT would take over the Norwalk Transit District’s services, but I’m not sure what services that means,” Gold said in the article, 

Without specifics, the proposal would require the “DOT to continue to provide comparable transit services” to those now provided by the Norwalk Transit District. 

However, working out logistics of how and what services would be operated by CT Transit for Westport apparently would have to be ironed out later.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.