A Wheels3U shuttle at Saugatuck Station./ Photo by Thane Grauel
A Wheels2U shuttle at Saugatuck Station. / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Transit Committee of the Representative Town Meeting will interview candidates Tuesday to appoint a second Transit District director.

Two people are seeking appointment — Sal Liccione of District 9 and a member of the committee; and Karina Saryani Betfarhad, a civil engineer and PTA leader who moved to Westport 14 years ago.

The committee will make a recommendation to the full RTM, which will ultimately make the appointment.

The Transit District has been operating for some time with only one director even though it’s required by the state to have two.

The Transit District contracts with the Norwalk Transit District for its buses and drivers. Its director is Peter Gold, who is unpaid. Gold also is an RTM member from District 5, and a member of the Transit Committee. He was reappointed in April 2022 to serve through April 2026.

The Transit Committee plans to interview the candidates in executive session during its online meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday,

Karina Saryani Betfarhad

“This unique position allows me to seamlessly integrate my professional experience, academic training, and commitment to serving the community of Westport,” Betfarhad wrote to the committee.

“I bring a deep understanding of the community’s needs and a genuine commitment to its well-being,” she said.

“I hold a B.S. in Civil Engineering from San Jose State University, where I completed all core engineering classes for an MSCE specializing in Transportation and Structural Engineering,” she continued.

“Over the course of a decade, I have worked as a civil engineer for three prominent construction companies as well as the City of San Jose’s Streets and Traffic Department. These experiences have honed my skills and equipped me with a comprehensive understanding of engineering principles and practical implementation.”

“During the past 9 years, while raising my three young children, I actively volunteered in the Westport School District across various capacities and educational levels, from elementary to high school,” Betrarhad said.

“My involvement has been diverse … I am confident in my ability to contribute significantly to the Westport Transit District,” she concluded.

Sal Liccione

Liccione, a two-term RTM member, wrote that he is highly qualified for the position, and that has worked for town government as a paid employee and volunteer.

“For over a decade I have been an active and well-known public advocate for transit improvements in Westport,” said Liccione, who lives downtown.

“I am the only elected town official that relies on public transit,” he noted.

In addition to serving on the Transit Committee, he said he was appointed in 2015 to a Citizen Transit Committee.

“I have served on multiple transit-focused committees in Westport,” he said.

“I am a consistent long-term vocal supporter of creating bus shelters for members of the public that use public transit,” he wrote.

Liccione noted that he is not afraid to speak up, even when his opinion is unpopular. He cited his sole vote out of 36 RTM members against the massive Saugatuck redevelopment plan known as The Hamlet, and what he said is a lack of public transparency in transportation issues.

Transit District facing challenges

The Transit District for years has not had its own fleet of buses or drivers, instead contracting with the Norwalk Transit District.

This past town budget season, it not only faced the challenge of the Board of Finance cutting its annual appropriation (only to be restored by the RTM), but the question of whether or not it should remain independent or merge with a neighboring district, Norwalk or Bridgeport.

That question got trickier when state legislators from Norwalk introduced legislation to dissolve the Norwalk Transit District, and turn its responsibilities and assets over the state.

That effort was paused after Norwalk Transit District officials agreed to take a new look at its routes and services to users.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.