Travelers may have more options for public transit

Public transit improvements are underway in the region, as Shore Line East plans to add two weekday routes this spring and the state Department of Transportation is proposing a review of regional bus service.

Two additional Shore Line East routes for New London and Old Saybrook will begin in April, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said last week.

The DOT is also considering adding services to the Southeast Area Transit District, following the department's takeover of the regional bus district earlier this month.

At a Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments meeting Wednesday, DOT Public Transit Administrator Mike Sanders said, "It is time to undertake a service review" of the transit district, which provides public bus services in East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, New London, Norwich, Stonington and Waterford.

Sanders proposed integrating the region's transit with the rest of the state, though no specific service plans have been outlined yet.

DOT took over management of the transit district earlier this month and assumed the costs and clean-up of an oil spill behind the district's Route 12 bus facility in Preston, after requests from the SEAT Board of Directors and the nine member towns. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had detected the oil spill in 2010. The cleanup cost is estimated at $1 million, according to DOT.

The transition to DOT management has been "seamless," DOT Deputy Commissioner Anna Barry said at the regional planning agency's monthly meeting.

Adding service areas in addition to the nine member towns and connecting bus services with rail services, such as Shore Line East, are under consideration.

"We're looking at integrating all those different modes that we control," Sanders said.

Drawing on a scenario of how it can take 90 minutes for students of Three Rivers Community College in Norwich to travel to school, Sanders spoke about "looking at those markets more strongly." Representatives of the community college had lobbied SEAT last November for express bus services to the college for students from Groton and New London.

Sanders and council members agreed to schedule a meeting in two weeks between DOT and the member towns.

First Transit Inc. has been managing SEAT under a contract with the transit district. DOT specified in a news release that the contract will continue. The department announced the SEAT Board of Directors will act as an advisory board to DOT and work with elected officials from the towns and SCCOG on planning service.

Sanders said the state is seeking the same level of funding from the towns for next year's budget. He added that discussions would be needed about the future configuration of the board of directors.

The transportation union has a contract with SEAT until June 30, according to an earlier letter from Commissioner James P. Redeker to SEAT chairman Paul Altman.

The DOT is working on additional Shore Line East service on weekends, but has not yet announced any service changes. Details on the additional Shore Line East weekday routes were not immediately available.

As DOT and town officials examine public transit services, there are other changes that could curtail public transit in the region.

In April, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe will end its subsidy for SEAT's No. 108 bus, which carries riders between New London and Foxwoods Resort Casino. In addition, a "Transportation-to-Work" program that provides transit services for about 400 workers could be eliminated under Governor Dannel P. Malloy's budget, according to John Beauregard, executive director of the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board.

The SCCOG decided Wednesday to write a letter in support of the transportation-to-work program.


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