November 20, 2017

Talking Transportation: The Malloy ‘Tax’ On Commuters

If a mugger came up to you on the street and said “I’m going to poke your eyes out!”, but then he only kicked you in the groin, would you think better of him?

That’s what Metro-North commuters are asking themselves now that CDOT has decided on 15.25% fare hike spread over the next three years instead of the 16.4% hike first proposed.  Are we supposed to be grateful?

To their credit, CDOT held eight public hearings around the state to gauge commuter response to their plan.  Hundreds turned out, 99% of them saying there was no justification for a fare increase in light of worsening service.  But having asked the public for their views, the CDOT chose to ignore them.

Mind you, this fare hike is not really coming from the CDOT.  It’s actually a creation of Governor Malloy and his budget team.

At every monthly meeting over the past two years the CT Rail Commuter Council asked CDOT if there were plans for a fare increase.  Each month they said “no”, until this spring during the budget process.

When the Governor’s concessions package was initially rejected by state employees, Malloy came out with “Plan B”, a painful collection of service cuts and fee increases (including a fare hike) that hit everyone in the state.  That got the state workers to reconsider and eventually they agreed to concessions and avoided layoffs.  But when the unions said yes, “Plan B” didn’t go away, especially the Metro-North fare hike.

So these fare increases are not to cover the cost of running the railroad but to balance the state budget.  What they amount to is nothing less than a “tax” on commuters, an attractive target with few alternatives.

Our fares are already the highest of any commuter railroad in the US.  Now they’ll be even higher.  Even the railroad’s own computer models suggest these higher fares will reduce ridership.

There are plenty of ways for Metro-North to save money without a fare hike, like collecting all the tickets on the trains.  For years the CT Rail Commuter Council has been asking the railroad to get conductors to do their job.  By their own estimates, the railroad acknowledges millions of dollars in lost revenue from uncollected fares.

Instead of collecting all the tickets, the railroad adopted new rules which make tickets expire sooner, leaving many riders with tickets that are now worthless.  Buy a ten-trip ticket and it’s worth zero in six months if you haven’t used it.  Meanwhile, passengers board trains at Stamford every day and get a free ride to Bridgeport because conductors aren’t doing their job. Their free ride is paid for by those with tickets.

Remember:  Metro-North works for the CDOT.  Why the state chooses to look the other way while the railroad abuses passengers in this way is a question best answered by Governor Malloy, the CDOT’s boss.

At a time when the state should be doing all it can to create and keep jobs in the state… and keep taxpayers from moving to NY or NJ… it’s astounding that Governor Malloy chooses instead to make the cost of commuting more expensive, not less.

This fare hike is just another nail in the coffin of Connecticut’s economic growth.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 20 years.  He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com  or www.trainweb.org/ct

 

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