Westport eyes Uber to help with transit costs
Updated 4:20 pm, Friday, December 16, 2016
WESTPORT — A survey aimed at making Westport public transportation more effective found a large portion of Metro-North commuters who don’t ride the bus could be better served in their daily trips through bus service.
A significant lack of awareness on the shuttle services was pointed out in the $14,000 survey. Out of a total of 1,539 respondents, only 23 percent of respondents were “extremely” or “quite familiar” with the service, and 42 percent of the train riders had minimal or no familiarity with the minibus system. Despite having little knowledge of it, 57 percent of train riders who don’t use the bus said they believe the bus service could be useful to them.
“Marketing, we think, is an issue. It’s one of the things that really comes out of this,” Westport Transit Director Marty Fox said. “But there’s a number of other things that come out of this, so when the new year starts, we’ll put together a plan that takes this into account ... we need to look at our routes.”
Over half of Westport residents who took the survey said low-cost bus service to the train and Door-to-Door services are important to the community. However, the high cost associated with the program has raised questions on its viability going forward. A single trip costs Westport taxpayers $43 per trip.
Kimberlee Morton, the CEO of the Norwalk Transit District, the entity that provides the vehicles and drivers for Door-to-Door, said that is “not a service that is ever marketed in our district,” adding it is underfunded by the state, and if the town chooses to attract more riders to the service, it must incur the cost. Door-to-Door, a federally mandated service, markets itself, grows each year and costs the city of Norwalk over $500,000 a year, according to Morton.
The appeal of using a smartphone app received a great deal of support in the survey. Out of bus riders who responded, 67 percent said they would find an app to track buses “quite” or “extremely” useful. Forty-four percent of train riders who haven’t considered using the bus said a smartphone app for the bus would be “quite” or “extremely” useful.
Craig Ewer, spokesman for Uber, said the Westport Transit District reached out to them and discussions are underway. “We welcome the opportunity to work with municipalities and other organizations to make transportation more affordable and reliable in Connecticut,” Ewer said.
Door-to-Door is crucial to seniors like 94-year-old Westport resident Larry Aasen, who rides it to the YMCA regularly.
“I use Door-to-Door two to three times a week. I call the day before, and the drivers are great guys. I’d be in trouble if they discontinued the service. I would really be stuck,” he said.
“From my point of view, $3 a trip is a fantastic deal for me and for retired people. I have some friends that use it,” Aasen said. “They love the service. I love the town for doing it.”
A total of 117 people used Door-to-Door through the past fiscal year, which ended on June 30, according to Fox.