To survey opinions of Westport seniors and people with disabilities about local transportation issues, the Citizens Transit Committee held a forum Thursday morning to gather feedback at the Westport Center for Senior Activities. The forum was part of an effort by the committee over the next several months to justify budget allocations for local transit programs.
About 25 seniors, only some of whom use the subsidized door-to-door service offered through the town via the Norwalk Transit District, shared ideas and asked questions at the forum.
Among the key points discussed was extending service to weekends and later into evening.
"The senior center has programs here on Saturday and I can't come because I can't get here," one woman said.
"I know a lot of people in Canal Park who would use it on weekends," she said of the service, which costs $2.60 per ride.
Susan Pfister, the senior center director, said transportation prevents some Westport seniors from making use of nighttime programs at the center.
"Thursday evenings we're open until 8 p.m. and that raises a problem for some people," she said.
"I get it," said James Ross, the transit committee chairman who is legally blind and can no longer drive. "On weekends I don't drive. I'm at home."
"A service like this is a life line," he added.
Ross and others believe not enough people in Westport know the public transportation options that are available. One man said this was evidenced by the small number of people at Thursday's forum.
"I take that as a red flag for all of us," said Ross. "We have ... a crown jewel in Westport and we need to get the word out."
He and others also referenced the ITN Coastal CT transportation initiative, which offers members low-cost door-to-door transportation 24 hours a day.
Ross said the South Western Regional Planning Agency is planning an intensive study of Westport's transit needs.
"We will be working with them and, more importantly, our transit directors will be working with them," he said.
Westport Transit Co-Director Jennifer Johnson said following last spring's budget battle with the Board of Finance, local transit advocates needed to be prepared to defend the Transit District services.
"We did have a bit of a wake-up call in April," she said, "but this became a rally point for us."
She listed several reasons for having public transportation in Westport, including environmental concerns, traffic congestion and safety.
"If we can't find ways to get out of our cars in this community, it's not going to be as lovely a community as we'd like it to be," she said.
Transit committee member Carolin Sigal said Fairfield County is the 24th most polluted county in the United States.
"More cars on the road are not going to make that any better," she said.
The WCTC plans to hold a similar forum in November to discuss public transportation as it relates to young people in town.
"We want to hear from you," Ross said. "The more people who get involved with this, the better."