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Pilot program would re-establish shuttle bus between Norwich, casino

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published March 29. 2012 4:00AM   Updated March 29. 2012 4:14PM

Norwich - The Foxwoods employee shuttle-bus service that was discontinued a month ago by the casino soon may be revived with help from the state but without Southeast Area Transit.

Alderman H. Tucker Braddock said Wednesday that the state Department of Transportation has stepped in and will pay for a six-week pilot program to provide free bus service between the city and the casino for its employees. But SEAT's hourly rate of operation does not make it a cost-effective option for the Foxwoods shuttle, he said.

With help from the region's council of governments, the pilot run will help develop ridership figures and determine the feasibility of a private vendor continuing the service in the future.

"We feel that it's very close to happening," Braddock said. "The first six weeks are going to be a demonstration. They will not be paying any fare at all. …We feel we should do something right away because these people have families and mortgages."

Foxwoods management on Feb. 29 discontinued its free Peter Pan bus service, which ran between Norwich and the casino. Many members of the city's Asian and Haitian communities relied on the bus to get to their casino jobs.

Braddock outlined some details of the proposal Wednesday at a meeting of SEAT's board of directors. He said a second phase after the six-week pilot could call for riders to pay $2 for a one-way trip and $4 for a round-trip ticket.

James D. Rabbitt, a senior planner with the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments also was present at the board meeting. He said the state DOT became involved because there is an immediate safety concern for casino employees who have turned to other travel options in the absence of the shuttle service.

Rabbitt stressed that plans with the state and private vendors are very tentative at this point, but the council was involved in planning for the return of the bus service.

"We're looking at a six-week program as a stop gap to determine the sustainability of mass transit between Norwich and the casino," he said. "How that mass transit is provided beyond the initial six weeks is still under discussion."

Members of SEAT's board of directors were aggravated that SEAT would not be the entity providing the bus service during the trial.

Board Chairman Paul Altman said he had a "great deal of resentment" that private companies were being considered over SEAT. He argued that the state already has designated SEAT as the transit district tasked with providing bus service in the region.

SEAT General Manager Ella Bowman acknowledged that she has been a part of the discussions with the state, the council and Norwich officials. She said she has concerns about the overall scope of the proposal.

"There's only a small pot of money that is being made available, which they're using for a pilot project to understand what the real numbers are," Bowman said. "I was given real numbers from Foxwoods that total over 1,000 people a day riding the shuttles. We don't really know. I think there are questions about what the real number is."

The Peter Pan service provided bus runs 24 hours a day, but it is not yet known how many hours the pilot program will operate.

John Wong, president of the Montville-based Chinese and American Cultural Assistance Association, has played a part in trying to find an alternative to the Foxwoods service.

He said he's been in discussions with a private Ledyard company, adding that he was uncertain that the $2 cost for a one-way fare would be feasible for those who ride the shuttle.

"Even then, they still don't know if they'll be able to make it (work) or not," Wong said. "They do not know how many people will be taking the bus to work or ... to go home."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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