Monday's meeting of Transit Committee of the Representative Town Meeting. / Photo by Thane Grauel
Monday’s meeting of Transit Committee of the Representative Town Meeting. / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Transit Committee of the Representative Town Meeting on Monday voted to recommend the full RTM restore the Transit District’s full budget.

The Board of Finance, in an annual ritual, cut out the Wheels2U funding when passing the rest of the first selectwoman’s budget for next fiscal year.

Wheels2U is a heavily subsidized commuter service where people can get rides to or from the Westport’s two railroad stations. It costs the rider $2 a trip. The town picks up more of the fare, and the state even more.

Jennifer Johnson, a former Transit District director and former RTM member, once again made her pitch to have the town break from its local district and embrace a regional approach. She said the committee, by continuing to back an outdated transportation model, was standing in the way of progress.

There were more people arguing in favor of keeping some local control.

The annual de-funding by the finance board and refunding by the RTM has become a golden oldie, echoing across the aged wooden floors and seats of the Town Hall auditorium.

At this point, even the “Groundhog Day” references to the annual dance are groundhoggy in themselves.

But a couple of new factors came into play during Monday’s discussion.

First was a bill in Hartford, sponsored by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and others to dissolve  the Norwalk Transit District. While Westport has a Transit District in name, Norwalk’s is contracted to provide the services. Without Norwalk, there would be no rubber on the road.

That would leave Westport with options to join the Greater Bridgeport Transit District or try to remain independent.

Second was a seemingly growing consensus among Transit Committee members that they should be providing oversight — like every other RTM committee — not being the default boss of an agency, formulating policy.

That, committee Chairwoman Kristin Schneeman said, should be the responsibility of the First Selectwoman’s Office.

“I know we were all here last year, and we didn’t want to be in the same position this year having the same conversation,” Schneeman said. “Obviously, a few things have changed, one was the state legislation and … we need to make a position about officially if we’re going to consolidate with another district, Norwalk or otherwise or not …”

‘I agree with everyone here who has said this shouldn’t be the RTM’s job. We’re essentially oversight, not operations.’ Transit committee chair Kristin schneeman

She also said they had the attention of the administration a year ago, “but that very quickly waned.”

“I agree with everyone here who has said this shouldn’t be the RTM’s job,” Schneeman said. “We’re essentially oversight, not operations.

“There needs to be somebody in the town government whose job it is to take a holistic view of transportation and traffic, transit, but there isn’t,” she said.

Dick Lowenstein, District 5, raised more concerns.


‘May 2, 2022, the RTM restored the budget. The first selectwoman said at that meeting she would do something about the problem we had had. It is now 12 months later and nothing has happened.
Dick Lowenstein, District 5.

“May 2, 2022, the RTM restored the budget,” he said. “The first selectwoman said at that meeting she would do something about the problem we had had. It is now 12 months later and nothing has happened.”

Schneeman disagreed with Johnson that the committee was standing in the way.

“We’re trying to keep things going, we’re kind of stepping into the breach,” she said.

“And maybe we’re enabling undesirable behavior by the administration, but I personally don’t have a lot of faith that if we drop the ball that we’re currently carrying, that the administration will pick it up,” she said.

Committee member Sal Liccione, District 9, made a motion to only fund $114,157 for the Transit District’s senior citizen/disabled client services.

It sputtered and stalled. No one seconded it.

The motion to restore full funding for the Transit District passed, with everyone but Peter Gold voting in favor. He abstained to avoid any appearance of a conflict. In addition to being an RTM member from District 5, he’s also the unpaid Transit District director.

After three hours of discussion, the committee appeared to agree that it should talk more about the future of the Transit District, including policy moving forward and whether or not to ask the administration to convene a public task force to examine the issues.

The committee also endorsed approval of the Railroad Parking Authority budget.

Thane Grauel, executive editor, 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.