Malloy balks at Metro-North budget hikes
Calls on MTA for explanation as state faces 57.6 percent increase in expenditures for line
Published 12:51 pm, Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Pledging to spare New Haven Line riders a new fare hike, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy demanded Aug. 14 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority explain tens of millions in added costs it expects Connecticut to pay to keep trains running for the next five years.
In response to a report last week by Hearst Connecticut Media, Malloy asked MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast to provide details on how it tallied new figures that pushed Connecticut's share to run the New Haven Line surging from $70.8 million in 2013 to $111.6 million through the end of 2014 to cover higher wages and costs of safety initiatives. Through 2018, the state's subsidy to run the New Haven Line and the other branch lines would average above $100 million.
"It should go without saying that Connecticut expects Metro-North to control expenses and live within the approved budget for 2015," Malloy wrote.
Malloy also asked for an accounting of $1 billion in cost reductions the plan shows the agency has achieved since 2010 to determine if the agency is giving due weight to savings made on the New Haven Line.
The draft 2015 to 2018 budget for the MTA also keeps previously approved 4 percent fare hikes on Metro-North riders at New York stations in both March 2015 and 2017 steady despite higher cost estimates.
"In the financial plan released last week, the MTA touts significant expense savings, but calls for fare increases in 2015 and 2017 that could impact the New Haven Line," Malloy said. "Those points don't seem to add up. I would like a full accounting of Connecticut's share of the proposed savings that were reported in the budget plan."
The higher costs do not include an estimated $41.5 million in higher wages through 2018, including $16.9 million in 2014 alone to cover back wages for Metro-North workers who have worked without contracts since 2010. Those higher wages are forecast based on Metro-North workers receiving the same raise as their Long Island Rail Road counterparts who settled a contract in July. The LIRR workers are set to receive a 17 percent wage increase over 6 ½ years under the agreement.
Metro-North and the MTA would share the information requested and explain their calculations as soon as possible, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
"The MTA and Metro-North Railroad have always worked diligently to provide the most efficient service possible," Anders said. "The MTA has cut more than $1 billion from its annual budget since 2010, and despite rising costs, has committed to future fare increases in New York state at no more than the rate of inflation."
Metro-North fare hikes for Connecticut riders are proposed by the sitting governor and subject to a public hearing process. Connecticut commuters currently pay about 75 percent of the cost of operating the railroad through fares, while the remainder is subsidized by the state.
On Thursday, Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker said he expected Prendergast to share precise details of New York's proposed fare increase and account for Connecticut's share of what he said was $1.3 billion in cost savings since 2008.
Redeker was emphatic that Connecticut will not impose a fare increase on riders in 2015 and said questions about how the state would potentially reallocate money to cover higher costs to avoid a potential fare increase were premature until the state reviews the MTA's calculations.
"We further expect the budget we adopted based on Metro-North's submissions they will live with because they are supposed to live within their budget," Redeker said. "When things happen for real as opposed to hypothetical things I'll have a discussion about it."
Hearst Connecticut's review of the MTA's plan also found an estimated $142.3 million through 2018 to cover new safety initiatives in the wake of a dismal 2013 that included two major derailments -- one in Bridgeport that injured 76 people and another in the Spuyten Duyvil section of the Bronx that killed four passengers. The two derailments and a string of other mishaps focused federal scrutiny on the railroad, leading to mandated and costly improvements to tracks, signals, and other training programs.
Connecticut riders have paid fare hikes of more than 4 percent at the start of each of the past three years on top of a series of 1 and 1.25 percent increases through 2018 to pay for Metro-North's new fleet of M-8 cars. The 4 percent added increases were put in place by Malloy in 2011 to help deal with a budget deficit after state workers rejected $1 billion in concessions.
The most recent 5 percent increase imposed in January went into effect amid the New Haven Line's worst service performance in decades due to the impact of comprehensive track and signal overhauls and mishaps that led to protracted service disruptions caused by a botched maintenance job at a Mount Vernon, N.Y., substation that crippled service for 13 days.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also weighed in Thursday saying it was inequitable to ask New Haven Line riders to shoulder additional costs when the MTA is estimating significant cost savings across the agency.
"It would be an increased financial burden to cover the rest of the MTA transit system such as subways and other railroads on one of the busiest transportation corridors in the country," Blumenthal said.