What a way to celebrate an anniversary.
As the CT Metro-North Rail Commuter Council marks its’ 25th year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to hike fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East between 15 and 14 percent, respectively.
The only way to stop it would be for House and Senate leaders to call for public hearings. However, the fares haven’t been raised in nearly six years.
Still, a fare increase isn’t fair, said Council Chairman Jim Cameron, a Darien resident and commuter.
“These fare hikes are unjustified,” Cameron said. “Commuters are tired of being a convenient target for tax increases because we have no alternative to taking the train.”
Specifically, the proposal calls for raising fares 14 percent and cutting weekend and holiday service on Shore Line East, which links Old Saybrook to New Haven. Fares on Metro-North, which runs between New Haven to New York City, would rise 15 percent.
“The commuters are not happy,” said state Rep. Fred Camillo, a Republican representing Greenwich in the 151st House District.
However, if the hikes pass, they would be the first since 2005.
“You’d be hard pressed to find any customer good that hasn’t increased in price since 2005,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesman for Connecticut State Department of Transportation. “Cable has gone up, groceries have gone up, the cost of gas has gone up. Every single thing has increased since 2005. Fares haven’t moved one cent.”
Right now, the state subsidizes Shore Line East with $21 in state money per rider compared with $1.50 per rider on Metro-North. And while fares remained the same, operating costs have risen.
“We are at the breaking point. It’s no longer possible to run the way we do,” Nursick said. “We can no longer treat the fares as sacred and untouchable.”
Nursick said the fare increases are part of DOT’s $90 million solution to help balance the state budget. In addition, it’s laying off 460 DOT employees across the board, from maintenance workers to engineers.
Nevertheless, the commuter advocacy group is also calling on the 110,000 daily riders of Metro-North. It wants them to write, phone or e-mail their state legislators to persuade them to support public hearings.
The council also wrote to House Speaker Chris Donovan, Rep. Toni Walker, chair of Appropriations, and Senator Toni Harp, Deputy President Pro Tempore.
“While all citizens of this state should bear a reasonable portion of the burden we are facing to balance the state’s budget, to hit commuters with a double-digit fair hike is unfair and counter-productive,” said the July 18 letter to the council.
Earlier this year, Hartford-area lawmakers pressed for construction of a Metro-North rail station.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-Milford), Reps. Paul Davis (D-Orange) and Themis Klarides (R-Derby) joined Orange First Selectman James Zeoli supporting a bill to authorize the state Department of Transportation to enter into a partnership with a local developer and property owner to expedite construction of the Orange Train Station.
Malloy signed legislation on July 13 calling for DOT — in the event federal or state funding for the construction of the proposed Orange Train Station is not available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 — to enter into an agreement, on behalf of the state, with a property developer and the property owner of the site of the proposed Orange Train Station, for the construction and operation of the station.
“Local access to Metro-North commuter service and a train station in Orange are vital ingredients for the town’s successful economic development formula, so I’m positively delighted with Governor Malloy’s signature on this new law,” Slossberg said in a press release.
But the commuter council said fare hikes are unwarranted because service hasn’t been reliable.
“Service on Metro-North is dreadful. Last winter train service was cut when 40 percent of our old rail cars broke down. The new M8 cars are more than a year late in delivery. And for this you are asking for a fare increase?”
Nursick said while DOT recognized there were problems last winter the lines are becoming more reliable.
“Even on a bad day Metro-North is better than I-95 on a good day,” he said.