People concerned over proposed transit cuts submit petitions

Three Rivers Community College students disembark from the South East Area Transit District's Three Rivers Express bus at the college Nov. 22, 2013, the year that bus route was established. The Three Rivers Express is one of the routes that could be eliminated amid state budget cuts, and current students of the college were among those signing petitions to urge more state funding for the transit systems. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Three Rivers Community College students disembark from the South East Area Transit District's Three Rivers Express bus at the college Nov. 22, 2013, the year that bus route was established. The Three Rivers Express is one of the routes that could be eliminated amid state budget cuts, and current students of the college were among those signing petitions to urge more state funding for the transit systems. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — People concerned over proposed cuts that would limit transit options have submitted petitions in the hope of seeing those cuts reversed.

The ATU Connecticut Legislative Council presented state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, with nearly 4,000 signatures from people across the state who signed petitions opposing cuts to bus and rail service.

Southeast Area Transit District and other transit districts have been notified that they could get a 15 percent cut in state funding starting July 1, while rail branch lines like Shore Line East could see a 50 percent cut, unless the state distributes more transportation aid.

Jaroslaw Pizunski, the legislative council's chairman and president/business agent for ATU Local 1209, said the petitions show that so many people are using the bus, whether to get to school, work, grocery shopping or medical appointments, and is asking what would happen to them if service is cut.

"For some of them, it's going to be a really, really bad situation," he said.

Osten, who said she has been working to restore funding cut from transit even before the petitions, met with Pizunski and ATU representatives. She said they are doing a good job highlighting the impact the transit cuts would have. If the state doesn't fund bus and rail, it will have a dramatic effect on people's ability to get to and from work and get around the state.

Raul Montalban, 18, a student at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, said he also submitted a petition with 173 signatures from students in support of maintaining the bus system.

“A lot of people take the bus so that they can continue their education, even if they don’t have a vehicle or they live far away," he said.

Montalban lives in Ashford, 40 miles away from Three Rivers, so to get to the college — which he chose for its architecture program — his mother drives him to Willimantic. From there, he takes a bus to the Norwich Transportation Center and then a SEAT bus to campus. The whole bus trip takes an hour and a half or two hours, he said.

In addition to the potential 15 percent cut next year, the state said transit districts could face a further 50 percent state cut starting July 2020.

Montalban said the petition signatures show that Three Rivers as a college is dependent on buses, which people need to further their education. He said limiting the bus system in any way "would also be limiting the education of this generation."

With the General Assembly still working on a state spending plan, the Southeast Area Transit District board of directors tabled a vote this week on potential service cuts for next year to account for a 15 percent cut. Proposed bus service reductions include cutting Sunday service and eliminating some routes, such as the Three Rivers Express Bus and Run 10 in Stonington.

The board plans to vote at its next meeting on May 16 on whether or not to move forward with service reductions. SEAT General Manager Michael Carroll said SEAT still will need to make some cuts, even if the district receives flat funding from the state.

SEAT held a series of public hearings this month on the proposed reductions.

"The common theme was that any cuts would fall disproportionately on (low- to moderate-income) populations, and negatively impact jobs and essential life functions (medical and shopping trips)," according to SEAT's summary of the hearings provided to board members.

k.drelich@theday.com

The South East Area Transit District's Three Rivers Express bus is seen parked at the college on Nov. 22, 2013, the year the route was established. It is among the routes that could be eliminated amid state budget and transit funding woes. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The South East Area Transit District's Three Rivers Express bus is seen parked at the college on Nov. 22, 2013, the year the route was established. It is among the routes that could be eliminated amid state budget and transit funding woes. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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