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February 09, 2018

"Getting There" - Who Speaks for Commuters ?

“Commuting on Metro-North is like getting hit with a two-by-four.  Service is getting worse and now you’re hitting us with a 10% fare hike.”

Those comments came from Jeffrey Maron, Vice-Chairman of the official Connecticut Commuter Rail Council (CCCR), a usually mild mannered, two-compliments-before-any-complaint kind of guy.  (Maron and I both served on the predecessor Metro-North Commuter Council).

But Maron’s tone had changed, as he quizzed CDOT Commission Jim Redeker at the recent CCRC meeting in Stamford where the transportation czar outlined the reasons for pending service cuts and fare hikes, i.e. the Special Transportation Fund is running dry and he has no choice but to cut expenses and raise revenue.

Maron reminded the Commissioner that Council members had offered many fund-raising suggestions, but never got the courtesy of a reply. “This is what  pi—es off the rider,” said Maron, raising his voice (which I have never, ever heard him do).  “We make suggestions and hear crickets.”

Maron was right.  Commuters’ suggestions should be heard, considered and accepted or rejected which explanation.  But Jeff’s ideas would amount to chump change compared to the funding really needed… like handing you a pool float as a tsunami hits.

Why not wrap all Metro-North cars in advertising, like our buses?  “That might bring in a million dollars,” said Redeker.  “So you don’t care about a million dollars?” asked Maron.  Probably not, when the STF will be $338 million in the red by 2022.

Why not collect all tickets?  Reasonable idea, but the needed staffing would cost more than the additional revenue collected, said the Commissioner.

Rubbing salt in the wound, Maron reminded the Commissioner of how much time and money he had wasted trying to repair, then demolish and privatize, the Stamford rail parking garage, a TOD project very dear to Redeker’s heart (and reputation).

And so it went as Commuter Council members (only half of whom even bothered to show up) bickered with Redeker and representatives of Metro-North.  Maron was right.  The Council gets no respect.

Which is why I resigned in 2013, after serving on that body for 19 years, the last four as Chairman.  The monthly meetings were a waste of time because neither side was listening to the other.

Over the years I’ve found that even simple questions require complex answers.  And there is usually a logical explanation for why the railroad has screwed up something.  Despite what curmudgeon commuters may think, the folks at CDOT and Metro-North are not stupid.  They’re just dealing with a complicated operation with insufficient resources and little margin of error.

So, why was the Commuter Council blaming Redeker for fare hikes and service cuts that he never wanted to make?  Instead, why weren’t they asking legislators what they will do to fund the STF?  The Council members weren’t listening.

So who’s really looking out for rail commuters’ interests?  It sure ain’t hypocritical lawmakers who claim to be fighting the fare hike necessitated by their own legislative inaction.

And sadly, I don’t think it’s the Commuter Council.  They’ve lost any credibility by their inability to deal with these issues with anything but bickering.

Nor do I pretend to that responsibility, though I’m usually the media’s go-to-guy for a soundbite.  I’m not even a full-time commuter anymore.

At this point I think it’s every man and woman for themselves. 

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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