Westport Transit District Directors’ Meeting Minutes
November 29, 2017 at 10:00 AM – Westport Town Hall, Room 201
Westport Transit District (WTD) Directors:
Norwalk Transit District (NTD) Staff:
Kimberlee Morton, CEO
Britt T. Liotta, COO
Grace Zweig, CFAO
Peter Gold, Chairman, Westport RTM Transit Committee
The meeting was called to order at 10:10 AM by Martin Fox.
Members of the public who wished to address the Directors were asked to do so. There was no public comment.
Approval of Minutes of September 28th meeting
The minutes of the September 28, 2017 meeting of the Directors were approved as presented – motion made by Ms. Cimarosa, seconded by Mr. Fox.
FY17 and FY18 YTD Ridership
Mr. Liotta reviewed the monthly ridership report for October 2017 and the fiscal YTD. As part of his review, Mr. Liotta noted that ridership on the S1 and S4 shuttle routes were down significantly YTD, with the S1 down 27% and the S4 down 40%. While total shuttle ridership is down 22% YTD, the year-over-year decrease in shuttle ridership was not as high in September and October as July / August when the prior year’s ridership was positively affected by the closing of a large parking lot at the Saugatuck station and the WTD’s offering of free service on the Imperial Lot shuttle.
Mr. Fox suggested that it would be a good idea to run a survey of the origins and destinations of riders of the S1 over a short period of time and in a similar manner to the surveys done earlier in the year. This might help better understand the specific reasons for the decline in ridership of that route, which primarily takes passengers from the Saugatuck train station to destinations on or near the Post Road. Ms. Morton highlighted that the S4 has extremely low ridership, and that the State DOT is continuing to look at low producing runs for possible elimination or reduction. Mr. Fox noted that an issue with the S4 is the length of the trip, which requires some riders to have much longer trips in one direction than they would have if they drove themselves. He indicated that the WTD had given thought to restructuring the S4 route by dividing it into two routes, but said that is challenging given the ridership.
In summary, Mr. Fox commented that the principal cause of the lower shuttle ridership overall in the past year is the addition of a significant number of new parking spaces at the two Westport railroad stations and the associated increase in parking permits issued to commuters. This has resulted in a 45% decrease in the number of commuters on the Railroad permit waiting list between June 2016 and June 2017.
Mr. Liotta commented on the decrease in Door to Door ridership. He stated that there are significantly less clients using the Town to Town service than in recent years. Mr. Liotta added that part of the reason for the decrease in Westport-funded Town-to-Town trips is that a greater fraction of Door-to-Door trips outside of Westport have been Coastal Link ADA trips based upon their origin and destination. Ms. Cimarosa commented that another reason for the decline in Town-to-Town trips is that a few riders had passed away over the past year, without there being an addition of new riders to offset the decrease. Mr. Liotta asked if Norwalk Transit can get a list of the recorded deaths each month from the Town. Ms. Cimarosa replied that she would look into it.
FY18 Budget Update
Ms. Zweig presented the YTD financials for the Westport Transit District. She reported that 1/3 of the way through Fiscal 2018, Operating Results before Westport Assistance are: (1) a deficit of $56K for the commuter shuttles, (2) a deficit of $11K for Elderly / Disabled service, (3) a deficit of $12K for Town-to-Town service – with total YTD Operating Results before Assistance of $79K. This $79K deficit is $15K below the Norwalk Transit Budget for Westport services of a $94K deficit (which differs from the WTD budget, as described in the financial report). Mr. Fox noted that the principal reason for this reduced deficit was the recent low Door-to-Door ridership compared to the assumptions utilized in budget. Mr. Fox then said that these trends could change at any time.
Ms. Zweig then commented that going forward, rather than billing the Town of Westport at the beginning of the month, the Town would be billed at the end of the month to reflect actual amounts owed versus the prior process of using estimates and later “true-ups.”
Ms. Zweig said that ridership for Door to Door on the Financial Reports includes one-way trips and no-shows. Mr. Liotta further clarified the reasoning: there is a cost involved with the vehicle going to the client and the client not taking the ride. Ms. Zweig and Mr. Liotta added that while attendants are counted as a trip in recent ridership reports because they fill a seat on the bus, they are not included in cost calculations because they do not generate any additional costs in hours or miles.
Mr. Fox then asked whether attendants have been included consistently in the historic ridership reports, and Mr. Liotta indicated that he would check into this. Ms. Morton then asked that the ridership definitions be included whenever included in reports. Ms. Morton then indicated that the NTD is almost ready to implement a system of allocating costs for all Door-to-Door trips based on hours and miles, which will likely cause Westport’s costs for Door-to-Door services to increase (vs. the current method).
Mr. Fox reported that the Westport budget process will be starting in the month of January. He stated that if there is any change in any cost allocation methodology or any other significant factor, it would be helpful to have this for WTD budgeting. Mr. Liotta commented that the NTD should be able to utilize some recent actual trip data to develop an estimate of the cost difference between the current and future allocation methods.
Connecticut Funding Update
Ms. Morton commented that the executives from the NTD will be meeting with the State of CT Transportation Department leadership to discuss FY18 funding.
Mr. Fox said that he and Ms. Cimarosa are very excited that the WTD launched its new marketing campaign in mid-November. He said that he is pleased that there had been positive articles about the campaign launch in Westport Now, an online Westport news site, and ‘06880,’ a widely read Westport blog. He then summarized the components of the marketing program and noted what has been implemented to date:
· Signage at the train stations, consisting of:
o 3 new billboards at the Saugatuck train station and one new billboard in Greens Farms with the WTD’S new messaging, which replace existing billboards. These were installed on November 27th.
o 8 posters in one of the pedestrian tunnels connecting the west-bound and east-bound sides of the Saugatuck station, which many riders walk through – which will be installed a few days after the meeting
o A new poster in the Saugatuck station house – which will be installed a few days after the meeting
· 5X7 “Take One” cards that include a WTD marketing message, the shuttle routes and links to the WTD website for schedules and myStop instructions. These have recently been placed at the two train stations, the three coffee shops around the Saugatuck stations, the library and Town Hall. Take One cards will also be placed at local real estate agencies and other key locations in Westport.
· A series of emails messages highlighting the benefits of the taking the shuttles and of the myStop App. These emails are being sent to email addresses of approximately 11,000 Westport residents, including to:
o Railroad parking permit holders and people on the permit waiting list
o People currently registered at Westport Parks and Recreation Department.
As of the date of the meeting, 6 of the WTD’s 8 email messages had gone out, with the remaining two to be sent in the next week. The email messages will be repeated in the first calendar quarter, with other marketing activities utilizing the same messaging to come.
· New route identifiers at the Saugatuck station with the map of the Saugatuck routes and instructions on downloading myStop and links to the schedules. Mr. Fox noted that the pole that hosted the S3 route identifier is now missing, but he is in touch with the Westport Public Works department to replace it.
Mr. Fox concluded the discussion of the new marketing campaign by saying that the WTD believes that the new campaign will increase awareness and the image of the WTD shuttles, which he and Ms. Cimarosa are expecting will lead over time to an increase in ridership from what it otherwise would have been.
2018 Meeting Calendar
Mr. Fox presented the 2018 Meeting calendar. The Town is not able to get back to Mr. Fox yet with room commitments, but Mr. Fox did not feel there would be any issues.
Mr. Fox made a motion to accept the calendar, Ms. Cimarosa approved the motion.
Mr. Liotta commented that the calendar will be posted on the NTD website within the week.
Mr. Fox asked about the recent Norwalk Transit hearings regarding the service changes and potential fare increases. Ms. Morton said that the hearings went well. The NTD presented all of the relevant facts, but since there was little attendance at the meetings, there was not much public comment. Mr. Fox asked if the NTD was still considering raising the fares, and if so, when. Ms. Morton stated that with the uncertainty of the State budget, the NTD needs to be prepared in the event that it does not get the necessary funding needed to maintain its routes and schedules. Ms. Morton added that if the funding does not come through, the fare increase could take effect as early as January. Mr. Fox commented that if Norwalk does increase the fares, then Westport would need to hold public hearings shortly thereafter to follow suit.
Ms. Cimarosa commented that the WTD has been having continuing discussions with the Westport Human Services Department about a possible mid-day fixed route shuttle between certain housing areas (such as Canal Park) and services on the Post Road such as shopping, the Library and the Senior Center. The initial thinking was that there would be service 1 or 2 times / week – with consecutive trips in a loop so that a rider could go to their destination in an earlier trip and return home in a later trip. Mr. Fox and Ms. Cimarosa reported that the Human Services Department is very enthusiastic about the idea. Mr. Fox said that the next step is to meet with some residents to get a better idea of the level of interest and gather other helpful information. After that, Mr. Fox said they would be looking for some assistance from Norwalk Transit to help plan out a route. Mr. Liotta said that he would get involved and help.
Mr. Gold said that he would like to make some comments on possible future ridership growth ideas. Mr. Gold commented that the WTD could consider trying to place its “Take One” cards at some of the larger office buildings in Town (such as Pepperidge Farms) as well as the 597 Post Road West apartment building to encourage utilization of the shuttles. Mr. Fox said that he and Ms. Cimarosa agree with Mr. Gold on this idea; they have been planning to try to place the Take One cards at these locations early next year after they complete the project of placing the cards at local real estate agencies.
Mr. Gold then said that with the heavy traffic on Route 95 and the Norwalk Mall opening soon, WTD could look into operating a shuttle from Westport to the new mall. Ms. Morton commented that the mall is not scheduled to open until the Fall of 2019, and it wouldn’t be feasible to consider adding such at a route until at least that time – when an evaluation would have to be made to determine if there would be sufficient ridership to justify such a route.
Mr. Gold then asked about the possibility of running a seasonal shuttle in the summer from a central location in downtown Westport to Compo Beach. There was then a discussion among the attendees of the challenges, potential citizen interest levels and concerns, and other considerations. Mr. Fox then said if the WTD does another consumer survey, a question regarding citizen interest in such a service could be included.
Mr. Gold then asked Ms. Morton how far away the NTD is from introducing an app to allow for mobile ticketing on a phone. Ms. Morton commented that it is not on the District’s current list of future projects, which includes other more pressing priorities. Mr. Liotta commented that there may be a future introduction of a smart card, rather than a mobile app, based on the current technology already on the buses.
Ms. Morton reiterated that the timing of a fare increase is uncertain at this point, but that the NTD should know more in the near future.
Ms. Morton mentioned that the NTD recently hired a planner with a marketing background, who will be starting January 2nd.
The meeting adjourned at 11:33 AM. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 10:00am at Westport Town Hall in room TBD.
Britt T. Liotta
Chief Operations Officer
Norwalk Transit District