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'Slap in the Face' Metro-North Fare Hike Coming Soon

Metro-North's unpopular fare hike is a done deal, and MTA says it's working on its own Passenger Bill of Rights.

As Connecticut Rail Commuter Council president opened the group's meeting Wednesday night, the Darien resident—recently returned from vacation in Europe—commented on the ease of rail travel in the Old World.

Those attending the meeting, held at in , included state Sen. Toni Bucher, Connecticut Department of Transportation Director of Rail Gene Colonese and MTA Senior Director of Customer Services & Stations Susan Doering.

Fare Increase

Having reviewed and fought the Metro-North fare increase for months, Cameron and the council reviewed a detailed copy of the fare hike proposal. The final version has the following implications for Metro-North fares:

  • A 5.25% fare increase effective January 2012.
  • A 19.25%

"So then this fare increase, as we see it, is solidified?" Cameron asked Colonese, who confirmed that it was.

"Is there anyone in Hartford advocating for mass-transit," CCRC commissioner Mitchell Fuchs asked. "This fare increase is a slap in the face of the people who are commuting."

In response to this, Cameron would quote a letter from the MTA to him which stated MTA's expected result of the fare increase:

"For every 10% fare increase, there will be a 1% reduction in ridership..."

"Why is our fare box recovery higher than any other commuter line in the country?" Cameron said. "Because we're Connecticut?"

Colonese suggested that high Metro-North operating costs were the cause.

Passenger Bill of Rights

CCRC reviewed their draft of the Passenger Bill of Rights, which they have been drafting since July.

CCRC's Bill of Rights is inspired by an incident in July where over a hundred MTA passengers were stranded on a train during the hottest day of the year. According to Cameron, MTA staff on the train didn't know how to calm passengers or deal with the situation, which was a major cause of a mass-panic on the train.

Boucher asked Cameron and the CCRC to draft a Passenger's Bill of Rights using the input of Metro-North commuters.

"I think it's a good draft," Colonese said.

Most of the discussion over the draft was based on bill's sixth stipulation:

In the event that Metro-North cancels train service and fails to provide alternative bus service for a period of more than 20 hours, Metro North must provide a proportional credit to any passenger who holds a current weekly or monthly train ticket.

The CCRC collectively discussed MTA's stance on this stipulation, elaborating on Metro-North's refund policy. According to Susan Doering, refunds are rarely given, and handled on a case-by-case basis when they are. CCRC members presented a scenario to Doering:

"What about a person who bought a weekly ticket on the week of Hurricane Irene, when the rail closed down for a few days?"

"I think for the sake of rider reassurance, they should know what the policy is," Cameron said.

While discussing the refund policy's place in the Passenger's Bill of Rights, Doering stated MTA was actively "reviewing" a Bill of Rights draft separate of CCRC's, and it would be ready in several weeks.

"This commuter council took up this particular issue, we're trying to get input from you, and now we hear you're working on your own version of this, which you didn't even share with us," Cameron told Doering, echoing the council's combined sentiment.  "That is highly disappointing."

"I think their lack of disappointment is well founded...it reinforces some feelings of the past, such as feeling separated," Boucher later explained to Doering.

Cameron later apologized to Doering, stating that Doering didn't deserve to be punished for the actions of "her boss", in this case being MTA president, Sen. Howard Permut.

"I don't want this effort over the months to become moot because you're publishing your own document," Cameron told Doering.

CCRC expects an update on MTA's Passenger Bill of Rights at next month's meeting.

M-8's

"The cars are coming so fast and furious that we can't keep up with it," CDOT Director of Rail Gene Colonese joked. In seriousness, Colonese stated that there would be more within a few weeks.

"We will get 10 [M-8 cars] a month, and will be in the 60-66 range by January," Colonese said. "66 will be here, 56 will be available for service." According to Colonese, M-8 delivery for the Danbury branch is 96 percent complete, which is on-schedule.

Colonese briefly touched upon the delivery of M-7 trains, and said that there were no problems thus far. Cameron said that was "good news", to which Colonese replied that there would be more information on M-7 delivery at the next meeting.

Line Issues

CCRC discussed a Oct. 6 incident at Grand Central Station where a long train delay led to a "stampede" of people running for a train when it finally arrived. As a result, a woman was trampled and injured. 

Susan Doering explained that the source of the delay were two trains that experienced mechanical issues.

In terms of mainline issues, CCRC consumer advocate John Austin informed the council about a male panhandler on Metro-North who would "go from train to train, asking people for money to reach Stamford."

"That's a very common scam," Boucher said.

When Austin stated that the male panhandler was usually ignored by Metro-North conductors, Cameron urged Austin to report his presence more-often.

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