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March 08, 2010

Mass Transit Faces Service Cuts, Fare Hikes

From coast to coast, mass transit is under attack. Decreased ridership due to the economy and reduced state subsidies are leading to cuts in service and fare increases.

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For us in Connecticut, New York’s MTA and its $800 million budget shortfall could affect our daily commute. The NY transit agency is holding public hearings on plans to cut bus and subway service, eliminate student discount fares and, yes, even target Metro-North service.

Starting this June, the MTA wants to shorten Metro-North trains (achieving a $2.8 million annual savings) and eliminate others (a $1.6 million savings). Targeted for cuts in Connecticut are two mid-day trains between Grand Central and New Haven, and a late night local from GCT to Stamford.

But neither of these cuts will happen, thanks to our Governor.

First, many New Haven line trains are already standing room only so it would be impossible to reduce their length. Some 6 – 7% of our trains don’t have enough cars to handle the passenger load, let alone see the number of cars get reduced.

Second, under our operating contract with Metro-North, none of these service reductions can be unilaterally dictated by MTA without agreement by the state of Connecticut. And Governor Rell has said “no way” to any service cuts in Connecticut.

Having for years sought a voting seat on the MTA or Metro-North board and been ignored, Governor Rell is quite correct in reminding those NY agencies that their current economic problems are of their creation, not Connecticut’s. Decades of over-zealous bonding for massive projects like East Side Access (a $7 billion project to bring LIRR trains into Grand Central) have left a pit of pain which New Yorkers dug, but have the chutzpah to now ask our state’s riders to fill. No way, MTA!

As I reminded the MTA Board when I testified at a recent public hearing… “Metro-North is a vendor to the state of Connecticut. We hire you to operate our trains. But we are not equal partners in the operation of this railroad.”

Governor Rell has told CDOT Commissioner Joseph Marie to block those proposed service cuts, and the dutiful transportation czar is following orders, much to the chagrin of Metro-North which, doubtless, will get their revenge at a later date.
If cuts in Metro-North service are needed, let them be in NY State, not Connecticut. New York already has more trains and lower fares than we do, so they can bear a loss of service with less pain.

While there are two trains operating each hour between Stamford and Grand Central, we have only one train an hour between New Haven and GCT. So, let them cut the Westchester trains, not Connecticut’s.

The final piece of good news is that we will not be looking at any fare increase here in Connecticut for the foreseeable future. A rumored 10% fare hike last fall to balance the state’s budget was postponed and a planned 1.25% fare hike January 1st 2010 (to help pay for the new M8 rail cars) was delayed, keeping the Governor’s promise of no fare hike until the (now delayed) rail cars go into service.

Our neighboring states have entered a death spiral of less mass transit at higher costs, discouraging ridership even further and eventually forcing more service cuts or fare hikes. But here in Connecticut, for a change, we remain a leader in maintaining fast, on-time Metro-North rail service with no price increase. And the credit all goes to our Governor, Jodi Rell, for holding firm against the MTA.

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