May 28, 2018
The recent debate over tolling our highways should remind us of just how divided our state has become. Not red vs. blue and not even just upstate vs. downstate. The real divide is between those who commute by car vs. those who take mass transit.
I’ve written for years about the fact that riders on Metro-North pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US, and those fares will only keep going up. Most rail riders have little choice, especially if headed to New York City. What are they going to do… drive?
Yet every time the fares go up… and they have increased 55% since 2002… ridership goes up as well. Why? Because conditions on the highways keep getting worse and worse.
But those who chose to drive, or must because there’s no viable mass transit option, seem to literally hate rail commuters. I think its jealousy. During the tolls debate, the venom was dripping and one Tweet in particular hit home.
“Just because your commute (by train) is so expensive doesn’t mean mine (by car) should be too (because of tolling),” read the post.
The driver had clearly missed the point. We aren’t looking for tolls to subsidize rail fares, just to get motorists to pay for the upkeep of their roads and bridges before we have another Mianus River Bridge collapse, which we will.
But it gets worse.
The anti-toll forces now sound like Howard Beale, the deranged newsman from the movie “Network” who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Doubtless, much of this is directed at Governor Malloy who enjoys (suffers from?) the lowest popularity rating in the history of polling. Sure, the economy of our state is in bad shape. But Malloy didn’t create this economic mess. He just inherited it and mishandled it.
And it will get far worse, whoever succeeds Malloy in the fall. The solutions will be few and all will be painful. Forestalling tolls and gasoline taxes today won’t stop the bridges from rotting.
But this opposition to tolls or modest gasoline tax increases to pay for roads has now been taken to a maniacal pitch predicting that “everyone is leaving the state”, conditions are so bad. That’s fine with me.
I was recently at our town dump and saw a young man unloading a bunch of items. “My parents are moving,” he told me. “Everyone is leaving Connecticut!” he exclaimed.
“Really?”, I asked.
“It’s all Malloy’s fault,” he said, sounding like a Pied Piper leading a caravan down I-95 to some promised land.
I asked him one question: “Did your parents sell their house?” “Sure,” he said. “And at a profit over what they paid for it.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess not everyone is leaving. Your folks are moving out and someone else is moving in.” Someone who wants to live here.
To those who hate it so much living in Connecticut, I extend an invitation: please leave. Enjoy your low-tax destination. And don’t forget to pay those highway tolls as you drive down I-95 through NY, NJ etc.
But enough already with the “I hate Connecticut” mantra. Some of us actually like living here. And losing ‘the haters” will only mean fewer cars on our roadways.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.
May 24, 2018
May 05, 2018
For weeks I’ve been writing about the CDOT’s impending bus and rail service cuts and fare hikes and their profound impact on commuters, local businesses and real estate values. But with just weeks to go, the folks who can prevent this pain… our legislature… seem to be doing nothing.
The deadline is July 1st this year when proposed CDOT cuts will go into effect: A 10% fare hike on Metro-North will be matched with elimination of off-peak trains on the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branch lines as well as Shore Line East.
How are local officials responding? By complaining that the proposed cuts on them aren’t fair. “Don’t cut my mass transit, cut someone else’s!”, seems the plaintiff cry. “Why is my bus service being cut but Hartford and Stamford’s isn’t?,” one official asked me.
I told him he was asking the wrong question. Instead he should be asking why any bus or train service was being cut.
It’s as if a crowd was trapped in a burning building with one narrow fire escape and everyone’s screaming “I deserve to survive. Let the others get burned” while nobody is working to douse the flames.
The answer isn’t to push away the pain onto others but to turn off the pain at its source.
Legislators can easily stop CDOT’s plans by just raising the gasoline tax four cents a gallon and diverting the car sales tax into the Special Transportation Fund. Instead, they’re blaming everyone but themselves for the mess they got us into.
Remember: it was the legislature that pandered to voters by lowering the gasoline tax 14 cents a gallon in 1997, a move that cost the STF $3.4 billion in lost transportation spending that could have repaired roads and fixed bridges.
Now the Republicans are so focused on the fall campaign they’re deceiving voters in a “big lie” PR move only Sean Spicer could enjoy: trying to argue that proposed highway tolls are “taxes”.
They are not. Tolls would be a user fee, paid only by those who drive on those roads. Train fares aren’t taxes, are they? You only pay those fares if you take the train.
Do Republicans really think voters are that stupid? Apparently so.
The pols are also piling on the CDOT for being late in opening the new Hartford Line, the commuter rail line between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield. Our legislature can’t even deliver a budget on time, let alone understand the complexity of a $769 million railroad construction project that’s taken over a decade.
It’s not by chance the Republicans are known as the “party of no”. For all their complaining they have offered no new ideas or embraced the ones that thoughtful observers think are obvious: asking motorists to pay their fair share with gasoline taxes and tolls.
Metro-North riders already pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US, fares that have risen 53% since the year 2000… while motorists haven’t seen a gas tax increase in 20 years. How is that fair?
If the July 1st service cuts and fare hikes go into effect, commuters should know it’s their legislature that’s to blame.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media