In the “Technology Innovation: Citizens” category, the Northeast award winner at this year’s Government Technology Special Districts program was the Norwalk Transit District. The program that earned the recognition is the Wheels2U Micro-Transit Service, launched late last year.
Wheels2U is an on-demand shuttle service app that allows riders to request pickup and drop off locations. Each shuttle has a tablet that tracks trip statistics and provides an app that drivers use for navigation, live traffic conditions, and real-time pick-up and drop-off information. Local officials describe it as “a new way to get around Downtown Norwalk.”
The Norwalk Transit District became the first in the state to introduce the door-to-door program when it launched Wheels2U in September. Since the app, ridership levels are growing at a rate of 20 percent each week, according to Government Technology, a California-based national family of magazines and websites covering information technology's role in state and local governments. During the pilot period, the cost is subsidized by the city of Norwalk.
The local Norwalk service operates Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, 5PM – Midnight; Sundays from noon to 9 PM. It was “intended to improve the connection between South Norwalk, Maritime Aquarium, The Sono Collection, Wall Street Area and other local attractions. To encourage ridership, the service offers a number of special discounts provided by local merchants and attractions.
AT&T and Government Technology launched a nationwide platform for special districts that includes a regional awards program with three categories (Citizens, Leadership, Operations) to recognize IT innovation and leadership. An evaluation committee reviews nominations in the three categories and selects award recipients in each of five regions. Submissions may be entered by the public or private sector annually.
The Norwalk Transit District initiative was recognized as one of the Northeast region winners at an event held in June in Philadelphia. The Special Districts Program, according to organizers, is the first program designed for special district leaders across the United States. Special districts, such as port authorities, water, transit and park districts, make up the largest portion of government agencies, they point out.
Last month, city officials in New London indicated they were exploring instituting a similar service, to supplement existing bus service.