Westport launches new Uber-like train station service
WESTPORT — A new on-demand shuttle service is looking to accommodate more residents while making their rides to the train station more efficient.
On Monday, the new shared ride service called “Wheels2U Westport” kicked off.
“Wheels 2 U is what’s called micro-transit, which is basically public transit on demand service that’s been implemented in many parts of the country,” Westport Transit Director Marty Fox said. “We started studying it a few years ago.”
The service will operate between locations in its service area — which includes the majority of Westport — and the Saugatuck and Greens Farms train stations, Fox said. It will operate Monday through Friday with morning pickups between 5:45 and 9:45 a.m., and evening pickups between 4 and 8 p.m
Commuters can download the Wheels2U app through the Apple app store or Google Play store. Riders will pay a $2 fare or can utilize a Metro-North Uniticket to use the service.
Fox said the new service replaces the Westport Transit’s seven commuter shuttle routes and temporary on-demand commuter service implemented in March due to COVID-19.
He said while the onset of the pandemic interrupted some planning for the implementation, it was even better to start the service now.
“This kind of a service allows us to match the number of vehicles that are deployed to the demand,” he said. “In a rough sense, if demand is more we can add vehicles, if demand is less we can subtract vehicles.”
Fox said while ridership for the Metro-North is relatively low it allows an opportunity to learn with a smaller group. As ridership increases they’ll have the service to meet the demand, he said.
Fixed routes previously made some riders experience a longer trip due to shuttles driving an entire route before stopping at the train station. People can now order the service right to their door and be dropped off right at the train platform, he said, and vice-versa.
“In some cases it can be faster than driving yourself,” Fox said, adding commuters also no longer have to catch shuttles for set train times.
The app saw success in Norwalk, which implemented its own version of the service in 2018. The Norwalk Transit District is Westport Transit’s operating partner which helped provide invaluable experience, Fox said.
Wheels2U Westport will use the Norwalk Transit’s blue vehicles and white shuttle buses as part of the service, he said.
“We believe that this public transportation in Westport will ultimately — once we get back to more people commuting — will relieve congestion around the Saugatuck train station,” he said.
Fox said Westport Transit also views this as a long term solution for the town.
“It’s been a long process of studying this in many other parts of the country,” he said. “I think we have a good answer for the commuters of Westport and the town, and something that will also be cost efficient for the town.”