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June 14, 2009

The Fare Hike Is Unfair

Once again, politicians who pay lip-service to improving transportation are trying to put your money where their mouths are: Governor Rell is proposing a 10% fare increase for Metro-North and a 40% fare hike for bus riders.

Her arguments for raising fares are specious:

1) New York Raised Its Fares, So We Should Also: NY State is raising its fares to pay debt service on $12 billion in bonds raised to invest in subways and trains. It had threatened 23% fare hikes and draconian service cuts (even in Connecticut), so the compromise 10% fare hike (June 17th) seems like a bargain. The MTA dug itself into a financial hole and wants riders to dig it back out. And Connecticut should mirror such bad public policy?

2) The Special Transportation Fund Is Running Out Of Money: True, but this is because lawmakers stupidly lowered gasoline taxes a decade ago. Those fuel taxes help subsidize rail fares and I predicted then that their loss would lead to higher fares. The way to replenish the Fund is to raise gas taxes. For just a one cent per gallon tax increase the state would gain enough revenue to halt the planned bus fare hike.

Sorry, Governor. Your rationale for taxing commuters just doesn’t make sense. Consider the consequences of these proposed fare hikes:

1) Increased Road Traffic:
Higher fares just encourage people to get back in their cars and drive on already congested highways. Isn’t this what we were trying to prevent?

2) Exploiting The Poor: The folks who take the bus don’t have cars. They have no other option than to travel by bus to school, to jobs and shopping. For them, a 40% fare increase means less money for food and medicine.

3) Discouraging Business: What employer will want to open a new business in a state where potential employees can’t afford to get to their jobs? A fare hike on trains and buses is anti-business and anti-growth.

4) Reduced Ridership / Even Higher Fares: Making the trains and buses more expensive will discourage ridership just as the new M8 cars start to arrive. Fixed operating costs won’t change, but reduced income from reduced ridership will just lead to calls for more fare hikes, a never-ending downward spiral.

5) Fare Increases Are Already Planned 2010 – 2016: Rail commuters already know they’ll be paying a 1.25% fare hike January 1st in 2010… and additional 1% fare hikes each New Years Day until 2016. This money is to help pay for the new M8 cars which are already behind schedule due to design problems and testing issues.

Hopefully, Governor Rell is just bluffing. Maybe she’s using the fare hike threat to jolt the legislature into action. But what politician would be so foolhardy as to support these fare increases, then look voters in the eye and ask for re-election?
While the downstate delegation may “get it” when it comes to supporting mass transit, the pols upstate clearly don’t have a clue.

Remember, it was just two years ago that Senate President Don Williams from “the quiet corner” of rural Connecticut was proposing free fares for senior citizens on all trains and buses. What a concept: a free ride on Metro-North for seniors while working stiffs pay $300 a month. Fortunately, that idea went nowhere.

So keep an eye on the legislature in the coming weeks. The process of creating a balanced budget won’t be easy or pretty to watch.

But if you want a say in stopping a hike on bus or train fares, contact your state lawmakers now. Only if bus and rail riders speak up can the Governor’s plan be defeated.