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Transportation: Keep the Buses Rolling
Buses Are Often the Best Option
Dressing Room Restaurant
Downtown Westport Connecticut
They just don't get it, do they?
Once again a community -- in this case, Westport (Connecticut) -- is scrambling to try to save its bus service, operated by the Westport Transit District.
The town's Board of Finance voted to eliminate Westport's subsidy to the district. That vote could put the brakes on the town's buses for good.
Uphill Battle Initiated
So, a campaign is being waged to try to avoid impending disaster. Carole Donenfeld, chairman of the Representative Town Meeting's Transit Committee, has taken on the uphill battle, leading a campaign designed to forestall catastrophe by forming a group to work for restoration of the subsidy.
Public transportation -- in this case bus service -- can no longer be looked upon as a nuisance by a society choked by automobile pollution, strangled by highway construction and maintenance taxes, stymied by bewildering traffic jams, slaughtered by highway carnage and driven to poverty by escalating costs of automobiles, repairs, sales and income taxes, insurance, tolls, etc.
The reaction of Westporters and local merchants to the possible loss of the buses makes it clear that the buses represent more than just a minor contribution to the economy of the town. Employers rely on the service to carry their workers; people need the buses to get to the railroad station, shopping centers and recreational areas.
Parking Problem Studied
Meanwhile, the Planning and Zoning Department is studying the town's decade-long parking problem. A deficit of hundreds of parking spaces would not be surprising.
Wouldn't the elimination of the bus routes simply exacerbate an already difficult parking problem? How many of the bus riders would have to buy a car, if they can, to wend their way through the heavy traffic to try to find a parking space?
Kudos to Town Officials
Town officials deserve kudos for refraining from the tired old demands for raising fares, cutting routes, skimping on buses and routes, and cutting drivers' pay.
Local bus routes cannot be sustained by small communities by the fare box, or by frugal appropriations to pay for salaries and other expenses. Even under the best of circumstances characterized by routes covering every corner of the town and crowded buses running on schedules that leave little to complain about, public transportation may require heavy subsidies.
But officials must recognize that public transportation is a community responsibility -- and a community asset -- that requires everyone to contribute his two cents (and maybe more.)
Cutbacks Not the Way to Go
The way to improve public transportation is not to cut back, but rather to improve services, increase routes, lower fares, entice more people to leave their cars in the garage, sell them or take them to the junkyard.
The more people ride the buses the more demand exists for better routes and better services -- and the less they'll have to worry about driving, parking and pollution.
Without significant federal, state and private contributions toward the financial operation of the buses, it's not easy to come up with the necessary funds. But not having the buses has a cost, too -- a human, as well as a financial, one.
And, with the buses operational, the town and its residents are in a better position to demand federal and state financial aid.
It is to be hoped that someday the federal and state governments will pick up the entire tab for public transportation through general revenues. Then everyone who wants to take the bus (or trolley, monorail, train, people-mover, etc.) can do so -- while saving money and the environment, too!
This column was written as an "Editor's Notebook" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on April 13, 1993.