Last Friday, a plan to increase Connecticut rail and bus fares was announced by the state's Department of Transportation and Gov. Dan Malloy.
The rate increases are part of the plan plan to implement the new fiscal year's budget that began July 1, which will include both expenditure reductions across the Department’s budget and increased rail and bus fares that will collectively balance the Department of Transportation budget while preserving service, according to a press release from the state.
• Editorial: Fare increase is another one-way ticket to Hartford for Fairfield County dollars
The 5% increase would include all parts of the Metro-North New Haven commuter line, including the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branches and Shoreline east and would become effective Dec. 1 of this year. On the New Haven line, it would be combined with the 1% increase already scheduled for January, making the increase 6%.
According to the state, the increase in fare would generate about $5.9 million in revenue. The plan also calls for closing what the state called under-used ticket windows in Greenwich, South Norwalk and Bridgeport.
The plan also calls for decreased highway and bridge maintenance and reduction of staffed hours at seven highway rest areas, which would be closed over night with allowance for truck parking.
Darien's Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group and long-time commuter advocate, said "it's not by chance that they chose a summertime Friday to slip this bad news over the transom, hoping nobody would notice. Well, I noticed and made sure that commuters did as well."
Cameron said the fare hike appears to be Malloy's "attempt at revenge against the legislature for not approving the budget he wanted."
According to Cameron, the governor's Transportation Funding Task Force made a number of recommendations to make up for the shortfall in gas tax's revenues which fund transportation, including:
- Raise the gas tax 2 cents a year for 7 years
- Raise the sales tax another .5%
- Congestion mitigation tolling
- Value capture of appreciating real estate near transit oriented development
- Study the idea of a VMT (vehicle miles tax) to replace the gas tax
- Annual fare increase of 2.5% on Metro-North
Cameron said the idea of a vehicle mileage tax was rejected by lawmakers before it was even studied, including by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who represents part of Darien and Norwalk, which left the governor no choice but to cut service or to raise fares on the New Haven line.
Cameron also pointed out that ridership is up 3.1% year to date which is equivalent to a 3% revenue increase.
He also said that service, though safer, is still plagued with delays and trains are full with standing room only during rush hour because not enough new cars were ordered.
"Commuters on Metro-North are a captive audience. We really have no alternative to taking the train and Hartford knows that. Plus, the upstate perception is that everyone living on the "Gold Coast" is a millionaire so "they" can pay up," Cameron said.
"That's clearly not the case," he said.
Cameron his hope is to keep commuters informed so they reach out to their elected officials with comments. He also urged commuters to turn out to the planned public hearings
. There will be one in Stamford on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 4 to 7 at Stamford's UConn campus. The rest of the public hearings will be held on weekdays in Old Saybrook, New Haven, Hartford, all from 4 to 7 p.m., and Meriden, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Darien commuter John Sini, a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, said "the MetroNorth fare increase is extremely disappointing especially when you put it in the context that Governor Malloy has wasted hundreds of millions taxpayer dollars subsidizing other, much less utilized public transportation projects like the CTfasttrak bus system and the Hartford-Springfield Rail Program."
According to the state press release, state Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said "the proposal is a responsible plan that ensures a balanced budget in this fiscal year and positions CTDOT for the new economic realities that will be faced in the upcoming biennial budget."