Stonington residents tell SEAT they fear elimination of their bus route

FILE - A SEAT bus prepares for departure near a snow-packed section of  a sidewalk along Water Street in New London  Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Tim Martin/The Day)
FILE - A SEAT bus prepares for departure near a snow-packed section of a sidewalk along Water Street in New London Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Stonington — With the threat of seeing their local bus route eliminated, residents  took to a public hearing Monday to express their disappointment and fear about losing the service. 

Last week, Southeast Area Transit District officials began a string of public hearings  to gather feedback from residents about the effects of proposed service reductions.

On Monday, Stonington residents had their opportunity to share their perspective on the proposal, which includes the elimination of Run 10 through town, which  some residents depend on to get to work, the grocery store, doctors’ appointments and the pharmacy. 

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. 

“I know if you cut this bus and take it away from us, nobody’s going anywhere,” said Jill Thibdeau of Pawcatuck, who added that alternatively walking along the road is dangerous for residents, and most can’t afford to take a cab. “It just seems ridiculous that you’d take something away that’s absolutely needed.” 

Facing a deficit, the state has advised SEAT and other transit districts to prepare for a 15 percent cut in state funding starting July 1, prompting SEAT to propose eliminating several services, including the Stonington run.

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. It has a per passenger cost more than 10 times that of the system-wide average rate. 

SEAT has estimated it would save approximately $103,000 by eliminating the route.

But for residents who depend on the run, the proposed elimination has sparked fear about how they will continue to obtain some of their basic necessities, including food, medicine and access to work or health care. A recent SEAT study found that most people who use the bus live in the Brookside Village subsidized housing complex in Pawcatuck.

“I just hope the board takes into account that within the span of one mile we have three HUD housing complexes, and there is no other public transportation,” said Leslie Browning of Pawcatuck. “This is a standalone route and if you cut it, you cut off this entire area from public transportation." 

The concerns of residents did not fall on deaf ears as town officials at the meeting  attempted to reassure them that they are exploring other options for providing transportation. 

“Our goal is to not leave anyone without transportation," said Stonington Human Services Director Leanne Theodore, adding that her department has been in talks with First Selectman Rob Simmons for some time about other service options. 

“Feel secure in the fact that you live in a town that has been preparing for this to come and exploring alternatives to not leave anyone in a position where they are going to lose their job, not be able to get groceries or medical appointments,” she told residents. 

Simmons reiterated that point.

 “If Route 10 comes to an end, we’re going to take the money that we’ve been putting in and reappropriating that for other ride services,” said Simmons. “We don’t want people put at risk, but until we know what the state will do or not do with SEAT it is hard for us to come in with a 'Plan B.'” 

Before proposing to eliminate the run, SEAT had said it would have to increase the town's annual contribution to SEAT from from $14,000 to $24,000, something Simmons balked at. 

“We’re looking at plans… but right now it’s kind of up in the air,” he added.

c.clark@theday.com

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