'We've Been Putting Off This Day As Long As Humanly Possible'
By DON STACOM
September 30, 2011
Connecticut is jacking up the price to ride commuter buses or trains, but passengers will absorb the hit over several years instead of all at once.
New Year's Day will bring fare increases of 4 percent on CT Transit and 5.5 percent on Metro-North and Shoreline East, the state transportation department said Friday.
But the unwelcome news won't stop there.
Bus fares will climb by more than 12 percent between now and 2014, and rail riders will take a total fare increase of better than 20 percent by 2018.
The DOT defended the move as the first fare increase in seven years, and emphasized that it is doing away with all the service reductions it had been threatening this summer.
Commissioner James Redeker described the fare increases as "modest," saying that labor, fuel and capital costs have all risen.
"We've been putting off this day as long as humanly possible," spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
But predictably, the news draw flak from commuter advocates.
"This is really a tax on commuters. We're a convenient target," said Jim Cameron, head of the Metro-North Rail Commuter Council.
"We're thrilled the service cuts were pulled, but we can't continue to pay for our transportation system with money from the pockets of transit riders alone," said Ryan Lynch, senior planner with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The DOT warned this summer that it might eliminate some CT Transit bus routes, trim service on others, end Shoreline East weekend trains and slash the schedule of Hartford's Star Shuttle downtown circulator.
"While I commend the DOT for not cutting services for those who desperately need them, I am concerned that a fare hike of more than 15 percent over three years is being instituted during a time of such financial distress," said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the transportation committee.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney was more blunt, accusing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration of "demanding more money from our beleaguered commuters to cover expenses that should have been anticipated during the budget-setting process."
The DOT held hearings across the state this summer on its proposal to cut service while levying two stiff increases in January. Instead, it will boost bus and rail fares gradually, with 4 percent increases on Jan. 1 of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Metro-North riders are already facing separate increases to help buy new Kawasaki trains. Rail fares will climb 1.25 percent in January, and then 1 percent each year through 2018.
In the first round of increases, the $1.25 cost of a bus ride will climb to $1.30 on Jan. 1. A 31-day pass for local buses will go from $45 to $47. Redeker noted that starting Jan. 1, the DOT will sell half-price passes to handicapped and senior passengers, two groups heavily dependent on buses.
Next year, a monthly Metro-North commuter pass from Greenwich to Manhattan that currently costs $237 will rise to $250; the same pass for New Haven riders will jump from $394 to $415.
Fares cover about 70 percent of operating costs on Metro-North's busy New Haven line; the remaining 30 percent is subsidized. Subsidies are much higher on the branch lines. CT Transit buses bring in only 25 percent of their costs through the farebox; the rest is subsidized.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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