I am writing about the future of Westport’s public transportation and to urge Westport residents and businesses to voice support of the Westport Transit District’s budget at the Board of Finance’s budget workshop this Wednesday, Feb. 10, and at the formal budget hearing scheduled for March 15. If you believe that robust transportation alternatives are integrally connected to our town’s future health and sustainability, then now is the time to take a stand.

It is time that our elected officials lead our community on this issue, not simply continue the same counterproductive annual debate in which the BoF demands increased ridership while simultaneously cutting the operational and administrative funding needed to do so. This continuing budget-cutting pattern has now brought us to the brink of losing our transit system. The irony is that this is happening just when new technologies for making transit better are emerging; I-95 and the Merritt Parkway are about to undergo major construction, and Main Street and Saugatuck are rapidly being transformed. On our watch, over four decades of transit services could very possibly end this year. We cannot afford to let this happen.

We can avoid this outcome if our elected leaders are willing to make two fundamental changes in this year’s budget: First, fund a full-time town position focused on managing and coordinating transportation issues, and second, appoint a town board or commission to provide oversight. This provides a path forward for addressing significant and complex questions, including: whether (and how) we should: 1) merge or disband our transit district; 2) find other options for providing services for seniors and commuters; 3) revise our commuter routes; 4) market these services; 5) interact with state and federal funding agencies, and 6) restructure railroad parking to include management of all multi-modal rail station access.

A full-time funded position (not a part-time consultant) combined with an oversight board would address these important issues. We need this kind of commitment to a multi-year effort to make substantive changes.

Let’s make this budget season the one where we start to build a better transportation future, not one that simply revisits the same debate — one that keeps us stuck in the same traffic jam.

Jennifer Johnson

Representative Town Meeting, District 9