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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Talking Transportation: Yet Another Fare Hike?

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

The cost of riding Metro-North has gone up again. And while these higher costs, effective today, are described as fare policy changesӔ rather than fare hikes, the effect is the same—higher costs for riders.

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But didnt we just have a fare increase a few months ago? YouҒre right. Fares went up 5.5 percent on Jan. 1, following a 15 percent hike in July 2003. And there are probably more fare hikes to come before our new cars arrive in 2008 or so.

Whats most interesting about these latest hikes is the way they were approved. But first, the details on who is affected.

If you have friends or co-workers living in New York City who ғreverse commute out to Connecticut each weekday morning, theyԒll now be facing peakӔ fares for one-way or 10-trip tickets. Those fare hikes are as much as 57 percent.

For everybody: if you dont buy your ticket before you get on the train, youҒll now be hit with a surcharge of up to $5.50, instead of $3.

Even if theres no ticket machine on your platform (heading eastbound from most stations, for example), you must cross to the other side and get a ticke or pay up. Seniors and the handicapped are exempted.

The idea behind this ғsurcharge is to encourage greater use of the expensive new ticket vending machines which are replacing human ticket sellers.

Metro-North says on-board conductors shouldnԒt be playing banker, but should be running the trains. So having folks get their tickets before boarding will save them time in fare collection.

Maybe so, but a $5.50 penalty, even on a local fare of as low as $2.50? Arent we supposed to be encouraging people to ride the trains, not penalizing them?

IҒve reviewed internal Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) reports on this surcharge and they and Metro-North admit that only 10 percent of the daily on-board ticket buyers will likely be persuaded to change their lazy (evil?) ways.

That means the railroad stands to gain $660,000 a year in added revenue from this new fare policy change,Ӕ and thats why I call this the hidden fare hike.

I love the new ticket machines (hint: tickets are even cheaper bought online). But I hardly see conductors as being over-worked. Most of the ride theyҒre sitting in their cubicle reading the newspaper.

How often have you been on a train and seen conductors fail to collect all tickets? On over-crowded trains with many standees, this means thousands of dollars in lost revenue per train.

According to an MTA audit, $9 million a year is lost in revenue due to uncollected fares. It is especially a problem with out-bound trains where passengers board at Stamford, Norwalk or Bridgeport.

Conductors walk the cars asking for Stamford ticketsӔ and an honest few offer them up. The rest enjoy a free ride”—on the rest of us.

Metro-North regulations say that conductors should issue seat-checks when fares are collected. That way they know who has paid and who hasnӒt. If you dont see that being done, or if you see people riding for free, challenge your conductor.

WhatҒs most galling about these new fare hikes is that they were proposed by the MTA and were rubber-stamped by CDOT. Despite two public hearings where 56 people spoke out in unanimous opposition to the MTA / CDOT plan, CDOT Commissioner Stephen Korta approved them, with little fanfare.

This was the same week that Gov. M. Jodi Rell was announcing that Connecticut needs a seat and a vote on the MTA Board so we can protect the interest of our commuters.

jimcameron75.jpg(Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 14 years. He is vice chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, one of five Transportation Investment Areas established by the Connecticut General Assembly in July 2001 to develop 20-year strategic plans for each of the state’s major transportation corridors. He is also a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting. The opinions and accuracy of information in this article are the responsibility of the contributor. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or http://www.trainweb.org/ct)

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Posted 03/01/05 at 04:39 AM  Permalink



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