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State and local officials met Wednesday morning in Norwich to discuss regional transportation issues, chiefly the end of Foxwoods' employee shuttle-bus service.
"My assessment is that the region needs to do a better job identifying unmet needs and developing a plan to address them," state Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, said in a phone interview later in the day. "The region does not do that very well right now.
"… Absent such a process, we're left having to lurch from crisis to crisis as it relates to buses."
Indeed, the region's most immediate transportation need is the one created by Foxwoods management's discontinuation of the free Peter Pan bus service it ran for decades between Norwich and the casino. The service ended Feb. 29.
Many of those who relied on the shuttles are members of Norwich's Asian and Haitian communities.
"We're trying to do something to take care of the 350 to 400 people who need a way to get to work," H. Tucker Braddock, a Norwich alderman who attended the meeting, said. "These are people with incomes of $325 to $360 a week. These gypsy cabs and van services are charging them up to $10 or more a day. That's $50 to $60 a week."
In addition to hiring private transportation, the Foxwoods employees, many of whom do not own cars, are car-pooling with co-workers, according to officials. None have lost their jobs for failing to get to work, a Foxwoods spokesman said.
Braddock said he met nearly two weeks ago with John Wong, president of the Montville-based Chinese and American Cultural Assistance Association, who has been trying to arrange for buses from New York to provide transportation.
The problem, Braddock said, is that the New York City company that would supply buses is not licensed to operate in Connecticut, a hurdle that could take months to clear.
"No way in hell the employees can wait that long," Wong said after the meeting. "If they're paying five, six dollars to get to work, you wipe their paychecks right out. You're going to lose some people. My solution is to lease buses from Connecticut that have the authority to operate in Connecticut. This is fastest solution."
Wong said he has begun contacting bus companies in the state. "As long as some bus company steps in, we're going to have transportation," he said. "Hopefully, soon."
In any event, officials who attended Wednesday's meeting suggested the Southeast Area Transit District would need to provide a long-term solution.
"SEAT, I believe, should be the entity providing the transportation between urban centers and major employers in the region," Reynolds, the state representative, said. "I'm working to bring regional stakeholders together to facilitate a much more robust planning process.
"COG (the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments) already does regional planning, but I think we need to take it a step further and support SEAT's ability to identify unmet needs and then engage the COG and the (region's state legislative) delegation in implementing the plan," Reynolds said.
"My personal view is that this is a SEAT responsibility," he said. "But we need a plan. ... I can't ask for funding if no plan exists."
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, and Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, also attended Wednesday's meeting, as did Mike Sanders of the state Department of Transportation; Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren; SEAT General Manager Ella Bowman; and representatives of business and labor groups, Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indian tribes.