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December 12, 2005

A Holiday Bonus From Metro-North

Just in time for the holidays, commuters are getting a transportation bonus.

After years of singing the deficit blues, the MTA has found itself with an embarrassing $1 billion surplus at the end of the year. Rather than plowing that money into badly needed new rail cars, service and security improvements, the MTA Board has endorsed a “Let them eat (Christmas) cake” policy by returning $60 million of that money to riders in the form of lower fares.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, riders of Metro-North, Shore Line East and the MTA’s subways and buses will get significant discounts.

If you buy a monthly commutation ticket on Metro-North in December, you’ll get one free ten-trip, off-peak ticket good anywhere on the system. Buy a weekly or ten-trip ticket anytime from November 24th through December 27th and you’ll get one round-trip off-peak ticket.
On weekends from Thanksgiving through January 2nd, subway and bus fares in New York City will be half-fare, a dollar per ride. There’s even a 40-day unlimited ride MetroCard available for use November 23rd through January 2nd for $76 (cash only at ticket booths, while supplies last).

To accommodate the expected surge in ridership, Metro-North is adding a number of weekend “Shoppers Specials” trains, shown in red in your timetables. Full details of all these special fare bonuses can be found at www.mta.info . Even still, I’m predicting uncomfortable crowding on most trains in the coming weeks.

I hate to sound like Scrooge, but appeasing unhappy commuters with one-off holiday treats may not be the best use of our money. While flush with cash today, MTA is facing serious budget problems in the years ahead including a $2.2 billion shortfall in pension investments.
As Andrew Albert of the NY Transit Rider’s Council put it…”I'm not convinced that a two-week feel-good holiday give-back is perhaps the best gift for riders. Many have expressed to us that if you pay down more pension debt you create less of a drag on fares." Keep that in mind when MTA and CDOT seek their next fare increase.

Finally, a correction to last week’s column “Connecticut Commuters Lose Again”. While I was accurate in reporting that Connecticut gets only a half-million dollars out of the $37.5 million allocated by Homeland Security for rail safety in the tri-state region, I was wrong in assessing blame for that allocation. It was not Congressman Chris Shays who dropped the ball, but CDOT. Turns out that, after the money was allocated by Congress, it was up to the rail agencies… MTA, NJ Transit and CDOT, not Shays… to divide the pie. I apologize for getting the facts wrong.
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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 . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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