Transit district serving Durham, Middlefield to merge with larger district

reporter photo

DURHAM — Two local transit districts might merge for the purpose of improving transit service. 

Estuary Transit District, better known by the "9 Town Transit" is poised to absorb the Middletown Transit District in what officials say will be a larger and more cost-effective operation, said Joseph Comerford, who serves as executive director of both transit districts.

Estuary Transit District currently serves Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook. The consolidation would add Middletown, Middlefield and Durham, the district said, with the possible addition of six other Connecticut River Valley towns in the future.

The move was put in motion by a 2020 report from the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, the regional planning organization that recommended merging the two quasi-public agencies into one integrated district to achieve a more efficient and sustainable approach to delivering transit services in the region, Comerford said.

Merging would provide multiple benefits, including staffing benefits, said Comerford during a recent Board of Selectmen meeting. 

Combining the workforce of two relatively small districts into one larger entity will increase opportunities for advancement and retain more qualified staff. 

“It’s really hard to attract good talent when you are a small, 20-bus agency. When people get more experience, they move up and move on. By being a bigger, 40-bus agency, we will have more opportunities for growth and we will keep professionals in place,” Comerford said.

Comerford  highlighted that no existing positions will be lost as a result of the expansion. It also won’t be necessary for personnel to relocate. 

Merging two agencies will also yield some technological benefits as well, said Comerford. For instance, merging would allow the bus agency to join the state radio system and obtain upgraded technology and equipment. 

During the expansion process, the existing Middletown facility at 91 North Main St. will be renovated and expanded and a new shared vehicle maintenance facility in Middletown will be constructed. Additionally, a new operating facility at a shoreline location to be determined will be constructed, said Comerford. 

Estuary Transit District currently has 25 employees and a fleet of 18 vehicles as part of its annual $2.5 million budget, the transit district said. It would expand to 50 employees and 38 vehicles, with a $6 million budget, when it takes on Middletown's operations.

Middletown Transit District carries an average of 854 passengers per weekday, with an average of 95 people per route. Estuary's nine town buses carry an average of 292 passengers per weekday, with an average of 58 people per route.

Both districts provide bus routes, on-demand Dial-A-Ride services and accommodations for those with disabilities. Estuary currently offers a free shuttle in limited locations that can be scheduled using a smartphone app.

The expansion will also result in improved connectivity to statewide transit services, including CTtransit bus routes from Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, and New Haven. It will also improve connectivity with South Area Transit bus routes from Norwich-New London, as well as and Hartford Line, Shoreline East, and Amtrak rail services. 

The legal name of the merged agency will continue to be Estuary Transit District but a new logo, bus designs, uniforms, schedule, and website design will be implemented. 

No increase in local contributions is anticipated as a result of the expansion, said Comerford. However, ETD has requested an allocation of $2.5 million in federal funds to support the expansion. 

Comerford said they are on track to have Middletown join the Estuary by the end of the year, though the process of absorbing the organization will be gradual over at least the next year.

The Board of Selectmen will discuss this initiative during the upcoming meeting. 

nKorytnikova@record-journal.com203-317-2444Twitter: @n_korytnikova

With local school, politics and coronavirus news being more important now than ever, please help our newsroom deliver the coverage you deserve. Please support Local news.

More From This Section