March 26, 2007

"Commuters Speak Out!"

In the past two weeks, more than 500 commuters have spoken out about the planned $1 per ticket fare surcharge by taking the Commuter Council’s online poll. The results show a 9 to 1 opposition (see for the details).

But most interesting to me were the 300+ commuters who took time to write comments, some of them quite lengthy. Here are a few excerpts:

>> “Our train fares are already among the highest in the country for daily commuters, and Connecticut should float bonds and find other creative financing options to fund new cars. The state should be encouraging ridership on the trains to resolve highway congestion and reduce pollution; raising fares works exactly counter to this objective.”

>> “Why should I have to pay a "penalty fare" of $1/extra to stand (which I do a few times a week) on a train to/from CT when the State of CT is about 10 years overdue purchasing new rail cars! This is nuts! We already pay some of the highest commuter fares in the country, with about 80% return at the farebox on the main line trains, so I hear.>> “If they’re going to do this, then they need to also put the tolls back on the Turnpike so all of those people have to pay to fix I-95 too.”

>> “Unbelievable that we have suffered through all these years of substandard train cars, and now we have to pay extra to catch up to the standard of almost every other major business city in the world! The quality and age of the train cars on the Metro North CT line is embarrassing. Fares from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago are less than half of what we pay from Fairfield County, and the trains are a lot nicer and less crowded”

>> “You guys (in Hartford) have some set of cojones, my friends. After we have endured woefully outdated cars and problematic service for the past 10 years, now you want to charge us for the 'privilege' of new cars!? Net: this idea is perhaps one of the stupidest ideas I have heard - I will be forwarding this to all of my fellow commuters. Have a nice day.”

>> “The citizens of the state should share the burden, not just commuters, as the entire state benefits from having this transportation system. The (fare) increases to CT commuters has been extraordinary these past years with little improvement, if any, in service. Stop sticking it to the CT commuters.”

>> “We should NOT have to pay anything extra for the new cars until the cars are delivered AND in service"

>> “The new equipment is desperately needed on the New Haven Line. However we are taxing the people who are using mass transit, who in turn are eliminating traffic/congestion on our roads/highways. It is those who drive who should be paying the tax”

>> “If surcharge is inevitable, you should make the commuting fare for poor and middle class people a deductible in their income tax.”

>> “This increase is another bad joke. The legislators should be forced to use this awful railroad to get back and forth to work. Maybe then they would be more responsive to those they serve.”

Those are the thoughts of many commuters. Share your views by taking the survey yourself at !
JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 15 years. He is Chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM, but the opinions expressed here are only his own. You can reach him at or

March 10, 2007

"The Unfair Fare Surcharge"

Don’t look now commuters, but there’s a fare increase in your future… possibly as much as $40 on a monthly pass.

The $1 per ticket fare surcharge will take effect January 1, 2008, with the proceeds helping fund our order for new rail cars and maintenance facilities. And short of a miracle in the current legislative session, nothing can stop it.

When it was written into the 2005 budget, the feeling was that commuters who’ll be enjoying the new M8 rail cars should pay their “fair share”. Perhaps so, but at $1 per ticket, this fare surcharge is anything but fair.

In fact, the surcharge will hurt most the very people we’re trying to get out of their cars and onto the train… intra-state commuters. Right now, a ticket from Fairfield to Stamford costs $2.25 one way. Whack a $1 surcharge on that and you’re looking at a 44% fare increase… and another excuse to drive.

Monthly commuters who buy unlimited-ride passes may be in for the biggest shock. It’s possible they’ll be surcharged $40 a month (based on five weekly roundtrips, four weeks a month).

How about seniors and kids? If their discounted fares are surcharged $1 per ticket, that’s up to a 100% fare hike. And all this talk of a fare hike while lawmakers are debating another bill to give free mass transit to senior citizens?

The Commuter Council has asked the CDOT, the budget-writing Office of Policy and Management and the Governor’s office for clarification on how the surcharge will be applied, so far to no response.

Most galling is that this fare surcharge flies in the face of Governor Rell’s 2005 promise that commuters "should not be asked to pay for improvements until they actually see them, sit in them or park in them."

The new cars still are on the drawing board and, at best, won’t be delivered until late 2009 (though my money says 2010 is a better bet). So, there’s nothing to “see”… not even drawings, let alone “sit in”. And parking? Well, there are no new lots, even on the drawing board. In fact, we’re about to lose 800 parking spaces for five years with the planned demolition and reconstruction of the rusting, worn out old parking garage at Stamford station.

Commuters are a patient bunch. Just look at what they’ve put up with in the past decade while Hartford did nothing: decaying stations, five-year waiting lists for parking permits, trains without enough seats, insufficient AC in the summer and heat in the winter, derailments and fires. And now Hartford wants commuters to pay a fare increase to pay for new cars that should have been ordered and funded a decade ago?

I guess you can figure out where I stand on this issue. But to gauge commuters’ responses to the planned surcharge and its effect on their commute, the Commuter Council has launched an online poll. Just visit our website at and click on the link to share your views online. When the poll is complete, we’ll post the results and share commuters’ opinions with lawmakers.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 16 years. He is Chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM, but the opinions expressed here are only his own. You can reach him at or


Ready for a summer vacation?  Car packed, airline tickets at hand?  You may not realize it, but Big Brother’s coming along with you.  Howeve...