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March 10, 2007

"The Unfair Fare Surcharge"

Don’t look now commuters, but there’s a fare increase in your future… possibly as much as $40 on a monthly pass.

The $1 per ticket fare surcharge will take effect January 1, 2008, with the proceeds helping fund our order for new rail cars and maintenance facilities. And short of a miracle in the current legislative session, nothing can stop it.

When it was written into the 2005 budget, the feeling was that commuters who’ll be enjoying the new M8 rail cars should pay their “fair share”. Perhaps so, but at $1 per ticket, this fare surcharge is anything but fair.

In fact, the surcharge will hurt most the very people we’re trying to get out of their cars and onto the train… intra-state commuters. Right now, a ticket from Fairfield to Stamford costs $2.25 one way. Whack a $1 surcharge on that and you’re looking at a 44% fare increase… and another excuse to drive.

Monthly commuters who buy unlimited-ride passes may be in for the biggest shock. It’s possible they’ll be surcharged $40 a month (based on five weekly roundtrips, four weeks a month).

How about seniors and kids? If their discounted fares are surcharged $1 per ticket, that’s up to a 100% fare hike. And all this talk of a fare hike while lawmakers are debating another bill to give free mass transit to senior citizens?

The Commuter Council has asked the CDOT, the budget-writing Office of Policy and Management and the Governor’s office for clarification on how the surcharge will be applied, so far to no response.

Most galling is that this fare surcharge flies in the face of Governor Rell’s 2005 promise that commuters "should not be asked to pay for improvements until they actually see them, sit in them or park in them."

The new cars still are on the drawing board and, at best, won’t be delivered until late 2009 (though my money says 2010 is a better bet). So, there’s nothing to “see”… not even drawings, let alone “sit in”. And parking? Well, there are no new lots, even on the drawing board. In fact, we’re about to lose 800 parking spaces for five years with the planned demolition and reconstruction of the rusting, worn out old parking garage at Stamford station.

Commuters are a patient bunch. Just look at what they’ve put up with in the past decade while Hartford did nothing: decaying stations, five-year waiting lists for parking permits, trains without enough seats, insufficient AC in the summer and heat in the winter, derailments and fires. And now Hartford wants commuters to pay a fare increase to pay for new cars that should have been ordered and funded a decade ago?

I guess you can figure out where I stand on this issue. But to gauge commuters’ responses to the planned surcharge and its effect on their commute, the Commuter Council has launched an online poll. Just visit our website at www.trainweb.org/ct and click on the link to share your views online. When the poll is complete, we’ll post the results and share commuters’ opinions with lawmakers.

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JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 16 years. He is Chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM, but the opinions expressed here are only his own. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

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