Price increases, expiring tax subsidies hit rail commuters

Rail commuters in Connecticut have again seen commuting costs rise this year due to fare increases and decreased tax subsidies that went into effect on Jan. 1.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation implemented a 5 percent price hike on all ticket prices for the Metro-North and the Shoreline East lines on Jan. 1, an increase that the state legislature authorized to offset the cost of purchasing new rail cars. Concurrently, a national monthly tax break on commuting costs expired on Dec. 31, reducing the subsidy that commuters nationwide receive by nearly half, from $245 to $130. The price changes, announced in a Dec. 30 DOT press release, are the latest in a series of annual increases meant to neutralize rising general costs, as well as the purchase of new rail cars on the Metro-North line.

Upon learning of the changes to ticket pricing, Yale students — who rely upon the Metro-North New Haven line for various purposes — expressed indifference at the increased cost of a train ride. Of the 40 Yalies interviewed, all but three said they were unaware of the changes, and all 40 said the modifications would not impact their propensity for using Metro-North.

New York City resident Anna Baron ’16 said in a Tuesday email that the fare hikes did not represent a significant enough stumbling block to prevent her from using the railroad, citing the recent derailment accidents and maintenance issues that Metro-North has withstood in the previous year as a far more significant source of concern.

“I think the fare hikes have become such a frequent occurrence, especially after the new year, that it doesn’t make me upset anymore and is not enough of a reason to choose another mode of transportation to get home,” she said.

The state legislature first passed a series of three 4 percent fare hikes in 2011, the last of which was implemented earlier this month. In addition, an annual 1 percent surcharge tacked onto ticket prices from 2012–2017 to pay for new rail cars.

DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said that the careful approach in implementing the fare hikes and tax loophole closings — the brainchild of DOT commissioner James P. Redeker — was the reason that there had not been “any kind of decrease in ridership” on the Metro-North New Haven line. According to Everhart, the fare increases were designed to be implemented when the cars entered service in 2011.

New Haven commuters interviewed at Union Station on Monday offered more varying assessments of the fare changes.

Helen Jones, a New Haven resident, said that Metro-North’s prices are “fair,” especially compared to those offered by Amtrak. She added that she benefits from discounts the railroad offers to seniors.

However, Mary Larew, a fellow New Haven resident from East Rock, said that Metro-North’s current service levels do not merit a fare increase.

“If I get on in Harlem, then I have to stand often for 45 minutes to an hour,” she said. “Sometimes there are delays.”

But Everhart remained adamant about the need for a fare increase, saying that fares cover only 70 percent of Connecticut railways’ functions. According to Everhart, the state government — which provides the remaining 30 percent of the costs jointly with New York State — already doing all it can to spare Connecticut residents from paying excessive transport fees.

“Fares would be a lot more expensive if we tried to make them cover everything,” he said. “They don’t.”

The Metro-North Commuter Railroad was formed in 1983 as a joint project of the MTA and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Comments