If you’re not mad as hell yet, commuters, you will be soon

Sometimes we commuters feel like Howard Beale from the 1976 movie, Network. We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!

The Metropolitan Transit Authority, parent of Metro-North Railroad, is at it again. Under the guise of balancing their budget, they’re proposing rules changes that would penalize riders, hike fares and discourage ridership. For the moment, these proposals would not affect riders in Connecticut, where fares are set by our state Department of Transportation. But the pressures for increased revenue may yet hit riders in the Nutmeg State.

The most expensive commuter railroad in the U.S. is about to get a lot more expensive. Here’s what the MTA is proposing:

Parking increases: The MTA controls parking at two dozen New York train stations and is calling for a 14.5 percent price hike, which would translate into an additional $840,000 in revenue to the railroad.

Fare hikes: Coming on the heels of fare hikes earlier this year, the MTA wants to jump fares another 7.5 to 9.4 percent

Ticket rules: Ten-trip tickets, which used to valid for a year would only be good for 90 days. And single fare tickets, previously good for 90 days, would expire after a month.

Peak and off-peak: There’s even discussion about eliminating — or at least reducing — the 15 to 20 percent discount for off-peak fares. This would really hurt Metro-North riders, nearly three-quarters of whom ride on off-peak fares.

Web tickets: The cheapest way to buy any ticket on Metro-North is on the Web. But the 2 percent discount for online sales may also be eliminated.

Ticket refunds: Did you find an unused, valid ticket in your desk and want to “cash it in”? The railroad would hit you with a service charge.

Metro-Card: Want a new Metro-Card instead of refilling an old one? That would cost you a buck. The popular unlimited-rides monthly card, now $89, would be limited to 90 rides for $99. Or you could pay $105 for the unlimited version.

EZPass: Tolls on MTA-controlled bridges (such as the Whitestone, Throgs Neck and Henry Hudson) would increase 10 percent.

Jobs/salaries: Two hundred ticket clerk jobs in the subway have already been eliminated. The MTA is proposing a freeze on transit workers’ salaries after two 4 percent pay hikes in as many years.

One person not losing his job and apparently unwilling to cut his pay is MTA Chairman Jay Walder, who earns $350,000 and just purchased a three-bedroom condo on Manhattan’s upper West Side for $1.6 million.

All of these price hikes are aimed at closing the MTA’s $800-million budget deficit, which was created by cuts in New York State subsidies plus debt service on billions in bonding for massive capital projects like bringing the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central and building the Second Avenue subway.

But hey! Let’s not just get mad as hell — let’s think of some alternatives.

Distance-based fares: Why is the fare on the New York City subway the same whether you take the shuttle to Times Square or ride the A train from northern Manhattan 31 miles to Far Rockaway? Most modern subway lines charge based on distance, just as commuter rail does. This would mean updating the turnstiles, but just out of fairness, shouldn’t subway riders pay more for a longer ride?

Wrapping the cars: Ride any mass-transit system in Europe and you’ll see cars wrapped in advertising. Experiments with exterior ad-wraps on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle haven’t hurt ridership but did bring in badly needed revenue. I’d imagine any number of “Mad Men” would pay dearly to wrap their ads around our new M8 cars.

Shame on the MTA for sticking it to the commuters! These rules changes would just discourage ridership, not increase income. And decreased ridership just leads to more money problems.

Yes, we’re as mad as hell. And we don’t have to take it anymore! This is an election year. Let’s create a commuter voting block and make sure the candidates pay more than lip-service to really supporting mass transit.

 

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 19 years. He is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area and the Darien Representative Town Meeting, but the opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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