By Paul Schott

Two new directors will take the wheel of Westport's Transit District Board after winning unanimous approval Tuesday from the Representative Town Meeting.

Town residents Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum replace the Transit District Board's former directors, Jim Hood and Bud Titsworth, who both stepped down in June after a contentious public review last spring of the budget for the local public transit system. Johnson's term will run until April 2016, while Cederbaum's term will end in April 2014.

"I'm looking forward to bringing a lot of energy to the transit district and helping to make the transit district work more efficiently," Johnson said. "While I recognize that our community is heavily dependent on cars, I think it's crucial that we also have alternatives such as buses, biking and pedestrian access. All of those options are fundamental to the qualify of life in Westport."

Johnson is a member of the town's Parks and Recreation Commission. She also serves as the campaign treasurer for Carolanne Curry, the Democratic nominee for state Senate in the 26th Senate District, which includes Westport. Johnson will resign as a parks and recreation commissioner, but continue as Curry's treasurer.

Cederbaum is a Westport lawyer whose work focuses on municipal litigation. He has extensive public service experience, having served as a Board of Education member from 1995 to 1999 and as a Representative Town Meeting member from 1981 to 1985 and 1987 to 1989.

"We have to evaluate where Westport is with respect to how it values its public transit system," Cederbaum said. "I truly hope that public transit has support within the community. But we also need to communicate effectively to the funding bodies and put together a budget presentation that is relatively easy to understand."

As transit directors, Johnson and Cederbaum will act as the chief policymakers for Westport's public transit system. The town's transit network includes several commuter shuttle routes that run to and from the town's two Metro-North train stations, after-school buses, as well as door-to-door buses for senior citizens and disabled passengers. Since 1992, the Norwalk Transit District has managed Westport's public transportation system.

A total of about 210 town residents and inbound commuters to Westport use the commuter shuttle network each year, according to Norwalk Transit District data. Both Johnson and Cederbaum have identified increased ridership as a top goal during their tenures.

Johnson and Cederbaum will also work closely with the Citizens Transit Committee. A panel appointed last month by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, the CTC is studying the town's public transit system and will make recommendations intended to improve the transportation network's efficiency, service and value to stakeholders. Cederbaum was one of Joseloff's appointees to the CTC, but he has resigned from the committee following his selection as a transit director.

In recent years, the town's funding for its public transit network has sparked fervent debate. A number of Board of Finance members have repeatedly questioned the town's fiscal commitment to the transit system and criticized its relatively low ridership and reported operational inefficiencies. The finance board last March cut $114,000 from Joseloff's proposed $248,000 allocation to the transit system for the current fiscal year, a move that prompted scores of commuters to lobby passionately at an April 11 finance board meeting for restoration of the $114,000 reduction.

The finance panel instead decided to restore approximately $54,000 to the transit budget. About a month later, the dissatisfied commuters finally achieved their goal when the Representative Town Meeting approved in May the full restoration of Joseloff's proposed $248,000 allocation.

Most of the town's public transportation funding, however, comes from the state Department of Transportation. The DOT will contribute about $710,000 to Westport's public transit system during the current fiscal year.

"That interest and passion hasn't gone away," Johnson said, referring to the town's commuter shuttle riders. "Part of the process is also to provide some clarity as to what the transit district provides and how we can better educate the public. We want to hear from people and engage the community."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott