Metro-North passengers get chance to speak on proposed fare hike
Metro-North Connecticut commuters on Wednesday will be able to comment on a plan that would boost the cost of tickets purchased by mail or Internet and impose other measures to help the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
In a letter last week, the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council questioned whether the effect of the expected boost would be cancelled out by lost sales of 10-trip and other tickets affected by the plan, said Jim Cameron, chairman of the commuter advocacy group. The council has asked the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North Railroad to detail the expected cost savings and revenue created by the proposal.
"I don't think riders are aware of the impact of the plan, and we'd like to encourage them to come out and speak their mind," Cameron said. "We don't understand the rationale for it, and the point to emphasize is that it is really a fare increase."
The DOT and the MTA will hold two public hearings in the state this week. The first is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Gen Re Auditorium of the University of Connecticut's Stamford branch, 1 University Place. The second is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday on the fourth floor of Union Station, 50 Union Ave., New Haven.
The rail council has also asked Gov. M. Jodi Rell to block the policy changes meant to narrow a $900 million operating budget shortfall for the MTA. Spokesmen for Rell's office declined comment about whether she would ask the DOT to oppose the policy changes.
In Connecticut, fare changes customarily require DOT approval and a public hearing process, but last week, DOT Public Transportation Chief Jim Redeker said the agency would wait until public hearings in New York and Connecticut before deciding to oppose or accept the changes.
As the MTA has sought higher fares on the Metro-North's New Haven, Hudson, and Harlem line and Long Island railroads to improve its finances in the past year and a half, Rell has so far chosen to reject higher fares for travel to and from Connecticut.
"Gov. Rell has been true to her promises to keep fares down despite the MTA's efforts to pick Connecticut commuters' pockets," Cameron said.
Under the MTA proposal, the 2 percent discount on monthly commutation tickets would be eliminated, and the 4 percent discount on the joint purchase of a monthly ticket and Metrocard would be cut to 2 percent.
Two percent to 5 percent discounts given on tickets through the Web program would be abolished.
Unused rides on 10-trip tickets would be voided after three months instead of a year, and single-trip tickets after a week instead of three months.
The railroad would also charge customers a $15 processing fee on ticket refunds.
John Hartwell, a council member, said that by tweaking its discount policies rather than announcing a straight fare hike, the MTA and DOT have made the proposed fare effects less conspicuous and understandable to riders.
Last year, Rell canceled public hearings set on a proposed 10 percent fare increase for Connecticut Metro-North passengers after criticism from commuters and elected officials that the hike was unjustifiable until service and equipment improved.
"We'd prefer if they just came out and said `we're going to have a fare increase and here is why,' " Hartwell said. "It really is nickel-and-diming people ... If they need to raise fares they should come out and say that is what they're doing."
Connecticut last raised Metro-North fares by 5.5 percent in 2005.
Written statements or exhibits concerning the proposals can be submitted at the hearing, sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Office of Rail Operations, Union Station, Fourth Floor West, 50 Union Ave., New Haven, CT 06519.