Hearings on rail and bus hikes today
Stamford will host a public hearing today on proposals to hike rail fares 16.4 percent, cut CTTransit bus service and add a dime to the cost of a bus ride. Opponents said Monday they were hopeful a slate of givebacks by state workers will halt the plans.
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said train and bus riders need to turn up to a hearing in Stamford from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the University of Connecticut Stamford on Broad Street and Washington Boulevard.
The proposed New Haven line fare increase would be the first since 2005 and the second largest since Metro-North Railroad began running the New Haven line in 1983, coming behind a 20 percent fare increase in 1984, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"I'm telling everyone to show up at the hearing . . . in Stamford to make their opinion known," Cameron said. "Even if they change the proposal so far they are still holding these hearings and it is up to commuters to offer their opinion."
The proposal would impose a 16.4 percent fare increase on New Haven line riders from Connecticut stations beginning Nov. 1, and reduce service on CTTransit routes in Stamford and three other bus districts while increasing the single trip bus fare from $1.25 to $1.35 statewide.
CTTransit riders in Stamford would see the discontinuation of the Bulls Head Commuter Connection service and the Central Commuter connection service, and the elimination of weekday trips on High Ridge Road on Route 31H as part of a plan to cut bus service 10 percent statewide to save $4 million a year.
While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration has indicated the approval of a labor concession agreement with state workers Thursday will allow them to preserve weekend service on the Shoreline East rail line between New Haven and New London, further changes to fare hike proposals and announced service cuts are uncertain, Department of Transportation spokesman Judd Everhart said.
Malloy's administration has been working in recent days to determine if the labor cost savings provided by the pact with state workers allows them to abandon state service reductions and cost cutting proposals, said Gian Carl Casa, undersecretary of legislative affairs of Malloy's budget office.
Malloy's administration predicts the labor concessions will preserve 6,500 jobs and save the state $1.6 billion over two years.
Casa said the state will try to avert fare increases and service cuts if possible, because of Malloy's belief that a robust public transit schedule and affordable fares increase the state's economic attractiveness.
"The governor has been a big supporter of transit and transportation funding and clearly we would like to find ways to both increase ridership on both buses and rail but there are other issues to be considered," Casa said. "That includes our ability to continue to afford investments in transportation and the state's contract with Metro-North which requires us to actually pay money to them if our fares are not as high as those in New York for Metro-North riders."
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a member of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, said she was pleased Shoreline East service would be preserved, but that ongoing shortcomings and conditions of Metro-North service on the New Haven line make discussions of fare increases seem inequitable for Connecticut riders. Customer service issues such as communication with passengers about service disruptions should be dealt with before approving the increase, Boucher said.
Based on Metro-North Railroad's mileage-based formula for determining fares, the 16.4 percent fare increase would make travel from Connecticut New Haven line stations 3 percent more expensive than from New York hubs, according to Daniel O'Connell, director of operations, planning, and analysis for Metro-North Railroad.
After five years of flat rail fares on the New Haven line, travel from Connecticut stations is 12 percent cheaper than New York stations, O'Connell said.
O'Connell said as a result of the higher Connecticut cost, Metro-North would pay Connecticut about $1 million annually to compensate for the lower New York fares, reversing the current situation in which Connecticut pays a $4 million fee to Metro-North to compensate for the lower cost of travel from Connecticut stations.
"It would be slightly more expensive to travel from Connecticut but the rates would be more even," O'Connell said.