After-school bus service for local students is scheduled to resume Monday, a little more than a month after town officials were blind-sided by the sudden cancellation of federal funding for the rides program.
But after scrambling to find a way to restore the service from schools to after-school programs around town, First Selectman Jim Marpe announced Wednesday that the Norwalk Transit District -- that agency that administers Westport's bus system -- will resume the service.
Three shuttles will operate essentially the same routes as last year, according to Marpe's statement. They will pick up students at schools and take them to after-school programs as well as to the Westport Weston Family Y, the Westport Library, Toquet Hall and other downtown destinations, he said.
The service, which had been provided for about three decades, was left in limbo when the Federal Transit Administration in July ruled the program was ineligible to use the commuter funding that had been used to pay for it.
Last Friday, however, the town was notified that it has been granted a temporary exemption that will allow the shuttle service to run until Jan. 1. "I know it will be a great relief to many working families who were worrying how they were going to get their children to the after-school programs without the bus service they have come to rely on," Marpe said at the time.
About 160 students routinely use the transportation program.
"We are very pleased that our diligence, and that of many others, in appealing to the federal government was successful. Parents and after-school programs can be assured that their participating students' transportation needs will be met until at least Jan. 1, 2015," Marpe said Wednesday.
Marpe, however, warned that local officials need to take steps now to prepare for the likelihood that federal funding will not be continued beyond the start of the new year.
"... We now need to plan for the longer-term issue of what to do after Jan. 1. At that time we will likely lose access to the use of the federally funded buses and the federal operating funds which covered approximately 60 percent of the service cost," he said in the statement. "This requires addressing the situation immediately from both an operational and fiscal perspective."
To explore those issues, Marpe on Wednesday announced the formation of the Selectman's Advisory Committee on After-School Transportation. Jennifer Johnson, the co-director of the Westport Transit District, and Dewey Loselle, the town's operations director, will be the co-chairmen.
Marpe planned to make more appointments to the committee this week.