Middletown Area Transit will begin cutting its evening bus service next month due to years of financial difficulties and funding cuts, leaving some city residents without transportation after 6:30 p.m.
The financial problems stem back at least three years ago, according to area lawmakers, and were further complicated by a 2 percent cut in state funds this year by the Department of Transportation.
The financial management issues at MAT are unknown at this time but the cuts in funding may be an effect of the state’s continuing budget crunch trickling down from the Capitol.
“Its at the point where existence of operations is at risk,” said Andrew Chiaravallo, chief executive of the quasi-public agency.
The announcement that evening service will end has left residents upset and searching for ways to get to and from work and appointments. The busses service people in Middletown and surrounding towns like Meriden.
According to the minutes from the May 10 board of directors meeting, Chiaravallo said MAT is facing a reduction of $156,000 in state funding. The board decided that evening to begin cutting back on bus routes.
But the cuts to the evening service may not prove to be enough and there may have to be a reduction in daytime service as well, according to the board minutes.
In a letter from Middletown mayor Dan Drew to Chiaravallo dated June 9, the mayor says he was only made aware of the bus route cuts by residents and then afterwards became aware of the underlying financial problems plaguing the transit agency.
“To my surprise and dismay, we have discovered more serious concerns facing Middletown Area Transit than the elimination of bus routes. We have discovered serious financial and management challenges threatening the existence of MAT itself.”
In a letter to MAT dated June 21 and published in the Middletown Press, state lawmakers Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, Len Suzio, R-Meriden, Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield and Joseph Serra, D-Middletown questioned the legality of the service cuts and said they are committed to working with MAT and state agencies to find a long-term solution to the problem.
However, the lawmakers said they believe the financial problems go much deeper than the 2 percent cut imposed by the DOT in 2017.
“It has become clear to us that the true source of MAT’s current financial crisis began apparently three years ago with its failure to recognize, respond to and report the deteriorating financial condition of MAT on a timely basis.”
The internal financial problems of MAT have yet to be disclosed as officials and the public await the overdue results of a 2016 audit but meeting minutes from August 2016 indicate MAT was facing a dramatic 12 percent decline in ridership.
The cuts have sparked public outcry and MAT is holding a public hearing on June 21 to address the public’s concerns. The Connecticut Parents Union is also holding a press conference in front of MAT on Main Street before the public hearing.
In a press release, CTPU president Gwen Samuel said decisions to cut bus routes should not be made prior to informing the public and allowing them to comment.
“The CT Parents Union and other community members from Middletown, Meriden and other surrounding towns are concerned that reducing and/or eliminating vital transit services will disproportionately target families living and working at or below federal poverty level.”
Chiaravallo says the cuts are necessary in order to keep any bus service operating with current funding levels. “In order to keep operating at the level they’re funding us we have to make the cuts to keep services.”
But mayor Drew said there should have been more warning from MAT officials. “It is unfortunate that MAT did not see fit to inform us regarding operational challenges facing the organization before the problems rose to levels now affecting our community,” Drew wrote.