“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Gandhi said this, and it still holds true today.
This past spring, when the cancellation of the SEAT Bus Run 10 was looming and SEAT held a hearing at Stonington High School, I spoke at the podium and told my story. Before the SEAT Bus opened run 10, I walked five miles every single day to work — in rain, in snow, in extreme heat. Before the SEAT Bus opened run 10, I walked five miles to go to the bank and hauled groceries in my backpack each week braving the busy road where I was routinely almost hit.
In a town where taxis, on average, take 90 minutes and Ubers are scarce, having Run 10 is necessary. There are no other bus runs in the area. Within one square mile alone on South Broad Street, there are three Section-8 housing developments, and by taking away Run 10, you will isolate the entire area.
In July, the transportation TPT fund granted SEAT the ability to fund Run 10 as long as the town of Stonington pitched in around $20,000 per year. Now, I realize the cost of Run 10 is well above that of other runs; the run will never be cost-effective. However, profitability doesn’t outweigh need. Most if not all social services aren’t profitable but they are still necessary in caring for the most vulnerable members of our community — the elderly, the disabled, and those families of low-income, etc.
Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons would bring the entire equation down to money, ignoring those factors that can’t be quantified in a budget statement such as the security and functionality that the service provides to countless struggling families in Stonington. While there is a proposal for a pilot bus program to replace the SEAT bus, there is at this time no such program — nothing is in place — and if Run 10 is canceled, dozens of disabled and low-income Stonington residents will be left without mobility. Currently the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center offers an on-demand bus service for the disabled, but it is not welcoming of non-seniors and low-income families, and therefore will exclude countless people in need.
Years ago, when Run 10 was in jeopardy of being canceled, a disabled man in a wheelchair was struck and killed on South Broad Street — this death of a disabled man seemingly galvanized the town of Stonington to do the right thing and keep the route. How many more need to be struck on the side of the road? How many families need to walk miles to get to the store? How many disabled and low-income residents need to struggle, all to save $20,000 in a seven-figure budget?
There is what is profitable and then there is what is right, and the two don’t always align. I hope the town of Stonington chooses to do what is right.
Leslie M. BrowningStonington