Stonington may drop SEAT bus service

Stonington — Faced with a proposed $10,000 fee hike in 2018-19, the town is considering dropping its little-used SEAT bus service.

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who is scheduled to meet with SEAT officials Monday, said the town is exploring other options to provide transportation for residents who need it.

SEAT Run 10 currently operates weekdays on a long U-shaped route beginning at Olde Mistick Village down Route 27, east on Route 1, along Route 1A, back east on Route 1 into Pawcatuck and then north on Route 2 to the Interstate 95 commuter lot. It connects with Run 108 at Olde Mistick Village and the commuter lot in Pawcatuck.

The route averages just 2.2 riders per trip, the lowest average ridership per trip in the entire SEAT system. An average of just 22 people a day use the bus over the 10-hour period it operates from 7:15 a.m. to 5:13 p.m.

A recent SEAT study showed that the people who most use the bus live in the Brookside Village subsidized housing complex in Pawcatuck and use it to get to the supermarket and access other essential services.

“Run 10 is a very expensive service to provide for the very few people that use it,” the study said.

The study found there are a few reasons for the run’s “unproductivity.” This includes that it serves a low-density population area and is poorly coordinated with connecting services, requiring a wait for nearly two hours. This results in providing a very localized service for “highly-transit dependent individuals.”

The study suggests 10 potential options, one of which is discontinuing Run 10. Others include exploring a partnership with Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which provides express service between Westerly and Providence; providing a midday supermarket trip for Brookside Village residents; redesigning the route to just serve the tourist areas of Mystic; better time connections with Run 108 in Mystic; or implement flex service in which buses could detour off routes to better serve riders.

Simmons said the cost of the service has been increasing each year and next year will increase from $14,000 to $24,000.

Simmons said no formal decision has been made yet and he is in discussions with the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center and the town’s Human Services Department about other possible options.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to make it more economical. How do we provide cost-effective transportation to the small group of people who use the service?” he said.

Human Services Director Leanne Theodore said that while the route serves a low number of riders, it is very important to the people who rely on it to get to the grocery store, doctors’ appointments and the pharmacy. She said that with the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, the town does a great job serving the transportation needs of seniors, but for younger people with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged, the SEAT bus is their only option.

With the town having to decide on SEAT funding in the 2018-19 budget in the coming few months, Theodore said she and other town officials are working on an alternative to SEAT that will not only be less expensive but work better with existing transportation service options and provide better service, including bringing people into Westerly, where many doctors and medical services are located.

“We’re excited to explore other options and move forward in a different direction,” she said, adding that residents will not be left without transportation.

j.wojtas@theday.com 

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