Why I’m resigning, but not quitting as a commuter advocate

FI-Talking-Transportation-Jim-CameronAfter 19 years, I have resigned from the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. But I can promise you that I am not quitting my advocacy for my fellow commuters or the writing of this column.

And I have an even better idea of how commuters can be heard.

The old Commuter Council accomplished many things since its founding in 1985, including the ordering of the new M8 cars. The council also fought for quiet cars, the Passenger Bill of Rights, expanded parking at rail stations, changes in the expiration date on tickets, and ticket refunds when service was canceled.

On an annual basis I would testify in Hartford for better rail service at affordable fares, but while lawmakers would nod in agreement, little changed. The tensions between upstate legislators and those from downstate, where rail service is a crucial utility, have always stymied investment in our rails.

And on visiting the Capitol I was always struck by the fact that the corridors there are filled with paid lobbyists arm-twisting on behalf of truckers for building more highways or opposing tolls. Yet there was nobody there speaking on behalf of commuters except me.

The thousands of daily riders of Metro-North in Connecticut are hardly a “special interest group” nor can they afford a full-time lobbyist. But they are taxpayers and voters who can move out of state when conditions make commuting unreliable or unsafe.

Metro-North is facing big problems. Despite new cars, service is slower than it has been in years and we haven’t even faced winter with its usual cancellations and service outages. Trains run lateand are still overcrowded. Communication with riders is inconsistent and unreliable.

So why did I resign from the Commuter Council now? Because the railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT), which hires Metro-North to run our trains, aren’t listening — let alone communicating with customers.

Review the old minutes and annual reports from Commuter Council over the past decade and you’ll see that nothing has changed. The complaints are the same, but the lip-service from Metro-North and CDOT is always a consistent “We’ll get back to you.” But of course, they never do. Commuter complaints fall into some black hole at MTA headquarters.

If Metro-North were a private, for-profit business, there would have been massive changes in management after the debacles of deferred maintenance leading to last May’s derailment/collision and the Con Ed meltdown. But Metro-North is a monopoly in a conspiracy of silence and obfuscation with the CDOT. The little that is communicated to riders lacks candor and transparency.

What we need to do is give greater voice to commuters’ anger. We need a “Commuters Action Group” that can directly connect commuters with lawmakers, the railroad and the CDOT, showing them the true level of frustration of daily riders.

That’s what I hope to build, and if you’re interested in helping, please email me. I’ve listed my address below and I certainly do want to hear from you.

We deserve a world-class railroad, and together we can still make it happen.

 

Jim Cameron has been a commuter resident for 22 years and was a member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council for 19 years. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected]  

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