Metro-North customers in a hurry may also find themselves in a financial pinch, thanks to a surcharge for on-board ticket sales that took effect yesterday.

The surcharge — which ranges from $4.75 to $5.50 for tickets purchased on-board as opposed to online, at the station or from automated ticket tellers — was part of a comprehensive revision to ticket fares scheduled to take place on March 1. The charge, which has been raised from $3 applies to on-peak and off-peak prices, but does not affect senior citizen tickets.

Although the charge is designed to encourage customers to use Metro-North’s automated ticketing system, consumer oversight groups are concerned that it will damage passengers’ faith in the railway.

“I think [the charges] are a nuisance,” said Jim Cameron, vice president of the Connecticut Metro-North Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council. “I think they are a hidden fare increase. I don’t think commuters should be penalized if they’re at the last minute running for the train.”

Cameron said the MTA estimates that only 10 percent of passengers who now buy tickets on the trains will use ticket machines instead as a result of the increased fare.

Another objection raised by community members is the size of the surcharge, which exceeds the price of an in-state ticket in many cases.

“I think $5.50 is a little outrageous,” Ward 13 Alderwoman Rosa Santana said. “I think that a surcharge is appropriate, but I just think that’s a lot of money. … It’s unfortunate that they continue to raise the rates on commuters who are traveling in order to stay off the highways, and it frustrates people.”

Many supporters of the railway system worry that this surcharge will discourage potential passengers from seeing Metro-North as a viable alternative to the highway, and disrupt local efforts to get people to use mass transit.

“We as a society are trying to encourage mass transportation to improve the air quality … and if you raise the prices on the commuter facilities, you’re going to have people getting back in their cars again,” said Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon.

When the rate increase was first announced, it was met with wide-scale disapproval from consumers. Fifty-eight attendees at the November public hearings on the changes were unanimous in their opposition, according to Cameron.

“These 58 pieces of testimony were put together in a binder and delivered to the commissioner of the department of transportation in Connecticut, who essentially turned around and ignored them … in the same week that Governor [M. Jodi] Rell was making noise about how Connecticut needs more representation on the MTA,” he said. “I was actually believing in January that Connecticut might stand up and say, ‘No thank you, we don’t want to rubber-stamp these proposals.'”

Whatever the state’s reaction to the MTA rate hikes, Rell’s recent transportation budget proposal suggests that she feels effective mass transportation is important for Connecticut’s future.

Among its many provisions, the proposal allocates around $1 billion for supplying Metro-North with new self-propelled cars and service stations for them. But it is an open question whether this will pass on savings to the passengers — the plan also calls for an additional $1 surcharge to take effect after the new cars are put on the tracks in 2008.

“The bottom line for the governor is that we must encourage commuters to get off the roads, we must make our roads safer, and we must repair what is presently broken,” said Adam Liegeot ’94, a spokesman for Rell. “And we must do this now.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”16270″ ]