Ston­ing­ton res­i­dents tell SEAT they fear elim­i­na­tion of bus route

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By CHARLES T. CLARK Day Staff Writer

— With the threat of see­ing their lo­cal bus route elim­i­nated, res­i­dents took to a pub­lic hear­ing Mon­day to ex­press their dis­ap­point­ment and fear about los­ing the ser­vice.

Last week, South­east Area Tran­sit District of­fi­cials be­gan a string of pub­lic hear­ings to gather feed­back from res­i­dents about the ef­fects of pro­posed ser­vice re­duc­tions.

On Mon­day, Ston­ing­ton res­i­dents had their op­por­tu­nity to share their per­spec­tive on the pro­posal, which in­cludes the elim­i­na­tion of Run 10 through town, which some res­i­dents de­pend on to get to work, the gro­cery store, doc­tors’ ap­point­ments and the phar­macy.

SEAT Run 10 cur­rently op­er­ates week­days on a long U-shaped route be­gin­ning at Olde Mi­stick Vil­lage down Route 27, east on Route 1, along Route 1A, back east on Route 1 into Paw­catuck and then north on Route 2 to the In­ter­state 95 com­muter lot. It con­nects with Run 108 at Olde Mi­stick Vil­lage and the com­muter lot in Paw­catuck.

“I know if you cut this bus and take it away from us, no­body’s go­ing any­where,” said Jill Thib­deau of Paw­catuck, who added that al­ter­na­tively walk­ing along the road is dan­ger­ous for res­i­dents, and most can’t af­ford to take a cab. “It just seems ridicu­lous that you’d take some­thing away that’s ab­so­lutely needed.”

Fac­ing a deficit, the state has ad­vised SEAT and other tran­sit dis­tricts to pre­pare for a 15 per­cent cut in state fund­ing start­ing July 1, prompt­ing SEAT to pro­pose elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral ser­vices, in­clud­ing the Ston­ing­ton run.

The route av­er­ages just 2.2 riders per trip, the low­est av­er­age rid­er­ship per trip in the en­tire SEAT sys­tem. An av­er­age of just 22 peo­ple a day use the bus over the 10-hour pe­riod it op­er­ates from 7:15 a.m. to 5:13 p.m. It has a per pas­sen­ger cost more than 10 times that of the sys­tem-wide av­er­age rate.

SEAT has es­ti­mated it would save ap­prox­i­mately $103,000 by elim­i­nat­ing the route.

But for res­i­dents who de­pend on the run, the pro­posed elim­i­na­tion has sparked fear about how they will con­tinue to ob­tain some of their ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, in­clud­ing food, medicine and ac­cess to work or health care. A re­cent SEAT study found that most peo­ple who use the bus live in the Brook­side Vil­lage sub­si­dized hous­ing com­plex in Paw­catuck.

“I just hope the board takes into ac­count that within the span of one mile we have three HUD hous­ing com­plexes, and there is no other pub­lic trans­porta­tion,” said Leslie Brown­ing of Paw­catuck. “This is a stand­alone route and if you cut it, you cut off this en­tire area from pub­lic trans­porta­tion.”

The con­cerns of res­i­dents did not fall on deaf ears as town of­fi­cials at the meet­ing at­tempted to re­as­sure them that they are ex­plor­ing other op­tions for pro­vid­ing trans­porta­tion.

“Our goal is to not leave any­one with­out trans­porta­tion,” said Ston­ing­ton Hu­man Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Leanne Theodore, adding that her depart­ment has been in talks with First Select­man Rob Sim­mons for some time about other ser­vice op­tions.

“Feel se­cure in the fact that you live in a town that has been pre­par­ing for this to come and ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tives to not leave any­one in a po­si­tion where they are go­ing to lose their job, not be able to get gro­ceries or med­i­cal ap­point­ments,” she told res­i­dents.

Sim­mons re­it­er­ated that point.

“If Route 10 comes to an end, we’re go­ing to take the money that we’ve been putting in and reap­pro­pri­at­ing that for other ride ser­vices,” said Sim­mons. “We don’t want peo­ple put at risk, but un­til we know what the state will do or not do with SEAT it is hard for us to come in with a ‘Plan B.’”

Be­fore propos­ing to elim­i­nate the run, SEAT had said it would have to in­crease the town’s an­nual con­tri­bu­tion to SEAT from from $14,000 to $24,000, some­thing Sim­mons balked at.

“We’re look­ing at plans… but right now it’s kind of up in the air,” he added.

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