Last-ditch effort to replace Foxwoods shuttle buses fails

Employee shuttle-bus service from Norwich to Foxwoods Resort Casino will end as scheduled tonight after Foxwoods apparently rejected a last-ditch proposal involving a travel agency based in New York City's Chinatown and a Plainfield truck-repair facility.

The shuttle service's last pickup at the Route 2 lot in Norwich will be at 10 tonight, a Foxwoods spokeswoman said Tuesday. The last run from Foxwoods back to the lot will depart at 6 a.m. Thursday.

Foxwoods has run the free service for years. Ever since its early-January announcement that it would stop the shuttles at the end of February, those who rely on the service - many of whom are of Asian descent - had held out hope that a public or private company would come forward to fill the void.

That hope seemed lost Tuesday when Foxwoods failed to respond to a proposal offered last week by John Wong, president of the Montville-based Chinese and American Cultural Assistance Association, who had arranged through the Chinatown agency to provide low-cost employee bus service between Norwich and Foxwoods. The plan required Foxwoods' approval since the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns the casino, also controls use of the Norwich lot as well as drop-off areas at Foxwoods.

While declining to comment on Wong's proposal, Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer, indicated Tuesday that no alternative shuttle service was in the offing.

"Anything that was legitimate has been thoroughly vetted from both a safety and access standpoint," he said of proposed alternatives. "It's not so much that we're stopping something; we're changing our approach to employee parking, allowing employees much greater access (to casino parking areas) than ever before. … We chose what we thought our employees wanted."

Many of the employees who use the shuttles do not drive or do not have the means to operate a car, Wong and others have said.

"We have 9,000 employees and we did what's in the best interest of most of them," Butera said. "We have people in house to work with those affected by this."

Wong said Tuesday that he met last week with Steve Bourdeau, owner of Northeast Diesel of Plainfield; Chris O'Connell, Foxwoods' vice president of hotel operations; and representatives of the Chinatown agency. Wong said the agency was ready to provide buses at a cost to employees of $2 a ticket, meaning a daily round trip would cost $4. He said the agency also was willing to post a $5 million bond to protect Foxwoods from claims in the event of an injury.

"I thought I could help out both sides, the casino as well as the employees," said Wong, who manages Long Lucky Bus, a company providing once-a-day service between Mohegan Sun and Chinatown.

"Over 400 people from Norwich alone take the (employee shuttles)," he said. "If there's no transportation, (Foxwoods is) going to jeopardize themselves. … They think car pools are going to solve their problem, but I doubt it."

Bourdeau, whose firm does maintenance for Long Lucky Bus, said Wong had approached him about doing the same for the proposed shuttle buses. He said Wong asked him to put the proposal in writing.

"We had a good dialogue going that day in the meeting," Bourdeau said. "The meeting was Wednesday and the bid went out Thursday. I haven't heard anything."

The proposal called for two buses that would have run 24 hours a day, and a third to provide back-up, Bourdeau said. Foxwoods was asked to subsidize fares at the rate of 50 cents per ticket and to adjust employee shift schedules to limit costs, he said.

Foxwoods began to phase out transportation for its employees in 2010, discontinuing shuttles from a Groton lot and ending weekday service to Route 2 lots adjacent to Interstate 95 in North Stonington and west of Route 78 in Stonington. Weekend service to those lots will cease now, too.

In announcing the end of the remaining shuttles, Foxwoods said employees would be able to park in a Route 2 lot near MGM Grand at Foxwoods and in the casinos' Great Cedar and MGM Grand parking garages.

Peter Pan Bus Lines, which has operated the buses for the Foxwoods shuttles from its Waterford facility, said earlier this month it would lay off about 40 drivers when the service ends. The Springfield, Mass.-based company said it would close the Waterford facility by the end of April and was offering some 40 other workers transfers to work at other company locations.


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