Metro-North’s ticket rules are still a rip-off

Metro-North’s “new and improved” fare policy taking effect on Tuesday, Sept. 4,, is neither new nor improved. It continues to be a rip-off of riders.

Until 2010, you could buy a one-way or round-trip ticket and use it anytime within 90 days. Convenient ten trip tickets were good for a year. And unused tickets could be refunded anytime for free.

Then, in December of 2010, things changed for the worse:  one-way tickets were only good for 14 days and 10-trips for six months. Refund any ticket and you’d be hit with a $10 service fee.

Why the change? Metro-North admitted it wasn’t able to collect all tickets on trains and was losing money. So rather than staff trains with enough conductors to collect tickets, they thought it wiser to penalize passengers.

How did these faster-expiring tickets hurt? In many ways:

Some passengers who bought 10-trip tickets for occasional trips found they’d expired, leaving them with four or five unused rides costing $10 or more apiece.  Ouch!

That was a mistake you’d only make once, so those passengers then abandoned the 30-40% savings of 10-trip tickets and had to buy one-ways. Ka-ching!

That means many passengers must buy a new ticket before every trip, which means getting to the station early and standing in line.

But while passengers were inconvenienced and lost money under the new rules, Metro-North scored a windfall of millions of dollars in additional revenue — some of it, perhaps, from previously uncollected tickets, but how much more from tickets bought in good faith but unused because they had expired?

And $10 to refund a ticket? By whose accounting? The same agent who handles refunds doesn’t charge $10 to sell a ticket, so why charge for a refund?

The Commuter Council representing LIRR riders has a better idea:  tickets sold could not be refunded, but neither would they expire.

This September 4th, responding to massive unhappinessfrom riders, the rules will change, but only slightly:  one-way and round-trip tickets will then be good for 60 days, not 14. But 10 trips are still worthless after six months.

To my thinking, tickets should never expire. If there’s a fare increase, pay the difference between the old fare and the new one. Otherwise, if you’ve paid for a ticket, you can take the ride. Period.

Conductors should do their jobs, placing seat-checks when tickets are collected so they know when new passengers get aboard and can then collect their tickets.  How often have you seen a conductor walk through a train crying, “Stamford tickets,” as the newly boarded commuters avoid eye contact?

Watching someone board at Stamford who doesn’t pay their fare is like watching someone shoplift. We all pay for their theft.

The new M8 cars mean more seats and fewer standees. It’s a rare Friday afternoon train that’s packed so tight a conductor can’t move through to collect tickets. If you ride a train where fares aren’t collected you should report it.  A well-paid Metro-North conductor hiding in their booth from angry passengers instead of collecting their fares is unacceptable.

We already pay the highest commuter rail fares in the U.S. These unfair Metro-North ticket rules just make commuting less convenient and more expensive.

 

JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years. He is chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien Representative Town Meeting.  You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or trainweb.org/ct .  For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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