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October 19, 2005

Try Transit... Again

Metro-North has become a victim of its own success.

On top of a four percent annual growth in ridership year to date, recent spikes in gas prices have attracted even more riders. In spite of last year’s fare hikes, the lack of parking at stations or even the lack of seats on the train, more and more people are heeding the call to “try transit”.

The problem is, they often don’t like the experience and head back to their cars. So how can we convince car-commuters to make a more permanent commitment to mass transit? Here are a few ideas:

1) DECLARE A TRANSPORTATION CRISIS: Governor Rell should declare the gas crisis a state of emergency and embrace President Bush’s call for reduced driving. Make single-occupancy driving socially unacceptable and cast transit-users as true patriots.

2) LOWER RAIL FARES: Make transit attractive by keeping it affordable to all. The increased ridership will more than offset a fare reduction as the MTA found with subways in New York City in recent years. To encourage greater intra-state ridership (getting commuters off of I-95 and the Merritt), why not offer free fares on “Try Transit Tuesdays”?

3) OFFER MORE PARKING AT STATIONS: Would-be train riders can’t commute if they can’t get to the station. Governor Rell should remind towns that rail stations are owned by the state and order them to suspend no-parking ordinance near stations. Use brown fields and open spaces for parking. Start station-to-business shuttles and fund them with the state’s recent embarrassing $30-million dollar windfall in gas tax revenues.

4) PUT ALL AVAILABLE RAIL CARS IN SERVICE: More than a year after their delivery, not all of the 26 used Virginia Railway Express passenger cars and used Amtrak locomotives are in service. Why is CDOT dragging its feet and why isn’t the Governor pushing them faster?

5) FIND MORE RAILCARS TO INCREASE SERVICE: It won’t be until 2009 that the new railcars we’ll soon order will start delivery… if we’re lucky. We can’t wait that long. CDOT should be directed to scour the country looking for available used rail equipment and get it into service yesterday.

6) OFFER INCENTIVES FOR RIDE-SHARING: Give car-poolers a discount on gas, free parking at stations (and work) and a tax incentive for being good citizens.

7) GIVE DIS-INCENTIVES FOR SINGLE-DRIVERS: If people really want to commute in SOV’s (single occupancy vehicles), make them pay for the privilege. Charge them for parking at work and use that money to subsidize ride-sharing.

We can no longer consider it “business as usual” when it comes to transportation in Connecticut, let alone the nation. Our lawmakers should seize this opportunity to encourage a change in commuting patterns. Let’s give people a reason to “Try Transit”… again.
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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

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