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August 29, 2016

Bikes on the Train

Days before the CDOT opens public hearings on proposed 5% fare increase on Metro-North, Governor Malloy held a media event to promote good news about “improved service” on our highest-fares-in-the-nation railroad.

What?  A return of the bar cars?  More seats on crowded trains?  No, nothing that monumental:  just a new e-ticketing app and word that bike racks have been installed on our trains.

Now the new MTA eTix smart-phone app is a big deal, but not anything that CDOT or our Governor had a hand in.  It was designed and built by the MTA, parent of Metro-North.  So far it’s functioning well.

But the other piece of news was more concerning.  The Governor said that “as a result of listening to our customers” 190 new bike racks (hooks, actually) have been installed on the new M8 rail-cars.  Great!

But in the next breath he said “now this is not for prime commutation periods”, i.e. no bikes at rush hour.  Not so great.

The reason is that trains are too crowded at peak times.  The seats are full and there’s often standing room only.  Trying to bring a bike onto such a train wouldn’t be possible, partly because these new bike-hooks sit over the handicapped passenger area meant for wheelchairs.  If there’s no wheelchair, a fold-down seat can be used, and on crowded trains, always is.

I’ve written for years about restricting bikes on trains until every ticketed passenger has a seat, a utopian dream we have yet to fulfill.  But for off-peak riders, where there is less crowding, bring your bike and hang it up.  (Folding bikes are always allowed if they can be stored in the luggage rack).

I also remain skeptical of any pent-up demand for bikes on Metro-North.  Sure, lots of commuters bike to their train station.  Others may even take advantage of the Citi Bike service on arrival in Manhattan.  But how many people really want to take their bike on the train into Grand Central?

Connecticut’s buses have offered bike racks for almost a decade and are widely used.  But that’s for shorter trips where the first / last mile of commuting by bike makes sense.
So, let’s see how popular these new bike racks (hooks) on Metro-North prove to be.  Maybe I’m wrong.  It won’t be the first time.
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On a personal note:  this is my last “Talking Transportation” column.  After a ten year run, I’m taking my commentary to new channels.

I’d like to thank all of you for your feedback over the years, especially your words of encouragement.  I’ll see you on the train.

August 01, 2016

Don't Blame Malloy for the Latest Fare Hikes

Sure, it was sleazy of Governor Malloy and the CDOT to release news of a proposed 5% fare hike on Metro-North on a Friday afternoon in July, hoping nobody would notice.  But the
more I dig into the proposal, the more I realize the Governor and CDOT are not to blame.

It’s the Connecticut legislature that’s really responsible for this fare hike.

Lawmakers this session left the Governor with a $192 million budget shortfall and every other branch of government has taken budget cuts and layoffs as a result.  Now it’s transportation’s turn to feel the pinch.

Pol’s on both sides of the aisle tell me Malloy could have saved millions by facing down the state employees’ unions and their rich benefits package.  Could’ve, maybe should’ve… but didn’t.

So now we’re looking at a 5% hike in train fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East and a 16% boost in bus fares starting in December.  Plus closing ticket windows, reduced maintenance and fuel savings.  And that’s just on the transit side.

Highway work will also be cut, hiring postponed and less salt purchased for the winter.  Service areas will be closed overnight and the volunteers who work in the Visitor Centers will be fired. Welcome to Connecticut!

So when you calculate the impact of all these cuts on your commute, by road or rail, call your State Rep and Senator and ask “why”?

Why are they allowing the Special Transportation Fund to run dry due to the dwindling revenues from the gas tax?

Ask Senate Majority leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and the usually pro-transportation Senator
Senator Bob Duff
Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) why they have opposed alternative funding mechanisms like the VMT (Vehicle Miles Tax), calling it “
dead on arrival” before it was even explained, let alone studied.

Ask your elected officials what their plan is to pay for our existing transportation network, let alone expand it by the $100 billion Malloy has suggested.  They won’t have an answer.

Why?  Because they are running for re-election this November.  And none of them has the guts to tell you the truth:  we will all have to pay more to drive or commute by rail… as you’ll find out after the election when they approve new taxes.

What can we do in the meantime (aside from holding them accountable during the campaign)?  There will be public hearings in September on the fare hikes and we should all turn out.

It will be political theater, but cathartic.  Commuters will rant and the folks from CDOT will listen and then do what they proposed.  Aside from cutting train service, a fare hike is about the only option.


And, of course as upstate lawmakers constantly remind us, those of us living on the “gold coast” are all millionaires, and we can afford it, right?