June 19, 2013
Written by Jim Cameron
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 23:00
Who says you can’t fight City Hall, or Metro-North?
Back in August, I wrote in this column about Metro-North’s latest proposals to gouge commuters. Today, I can say they have been soundly defeated.
To close its $800-million budget deficit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA — Metro-North’s parent), has in past months come forward with a series of fare hikes and service cuts, all of them soundly rejected by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Because, although that New York state agency has never heeded our governor’s requests for a voting seat on its board, Connecticut does have veto power over fare hikes in our state.
I’ve got to hand it to Rell; she’s kept her word since February 2005, when, in her first budget address, she told the legislature we were long overdue in ordering new rail cars, and promised no fare hikes until the cars arrived and went into service. She’s also funneled millions in stimulus funds into fixing up our rail stations.
But this time the MTA was proposing something different, what I called a “stealth” fare hike.
The rail agency proposed cutting the discount on monthly “mail and ride” tickets as well as rail tickets bought on the web. It also wanted to reduce the validity of 10-trip tickets from one year to 90 days. And single-trip tickets, now valid for six months, would expire in a week.
What were they thinking? Short of having conductors spit at passengers, these changes were almost like yelling “screw you” to their customers.
Once again the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council had its work to do — first in publicizing the proposal through the media, then in demanding public hearings (though none were originally planned in Connecticut), and finally in rallying commuters to attend and speak out against these proposals.
For the record, I should note that the council has, in the past, supported small fare hikes, when they were tied to the cost of living and matched against improvements in service. But these proposals were neither.
The MTA’s budget deficit is of its own creation, not Connecticut’s. So, New York taxpayers and commuters should pay for it, not us. Connecticut has never been asked for input on the multi-billion dollar mega-projects undertaken by the MTA, such as the $6 billion to build tunnels bringing the Long Island Railroad into Grand Central, so why stick us with the bill?
Isn’t reducing a discount equivalent to a fare increase? You betcha!
And what possible reason could Metro-North offer for shortening the validity of 10-trip tickets? Incredibly, Metro-North said it was to deal with the “problem of uncollected tickets.”
Amazing. For about a decade, the Commuter Council has been beating on Metro-North about conductors not doing their jobs, leaving tickets uncollected on crowded trains. By its own calculations, Metro-North loses $2 million a year on uncollected tickets. And its solution is to screw customers by selling them 10 trips, but letting them only use two or three rides, then declare their ticket invalid?
And the icing on the cake, the final proposal from the MTA? A $15 fee to cash in an unexpired ticket!
The Commuter Council was curious just how much money would be raised if these plans were approved, so we filed a formal written request for that data. The answer: about a half-million dollars a year in Connecticut. That’s nothing, a rounding error, bupkis! An $800 million budget deficit, and all these proposed changes will bring in $500,000?
Rell heard our argument and agreed. She quickly ordered the Connecticut Department of Transportation to reject the MTA/Metro-North proposal, a directive read aloud at the public hearings in Stamford and New Haven.
Commuters have won — for now.
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