Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Metro-North To Commuters: Get Back to the Office!

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“Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron
Cover Photo By Jim Cameron

Metro-North is telling part-time commuters to go back to work.  Their incentive?  Elimination of the 20 trip discount tickets introduced in 2022.

After the pandemic when daily commuters were reverting to two or three days a week in the office, the old monthly pass didn’t make economic sense.  So MTA introduced a 20 trip ticket (good for 60 days) offering a 20% discount over daily fares.  It proved very popular.

Investment manager John Sini from Darien says he loved the idea.  “I currently commute 3 – 4 times a week to GCT and a 20 trip ticket would last me 2-3 weeks.”

Here’s a chart showing the ticketing options for a Darien commuter on Metro-North:

TICKET TYPE COST DISCOUNT
One Way – Peak $ 15.25 None
One Way – Off Peak $ 11.50 25%
10 Trip – Peak $ 152.50 None
10 Trip – Off Peak $ 97.75 15%
20 Trip – Peak $ 244.00 20%
Weekly $ 107.25 30%
Monthly $ 301.50 50%

The unlimited monthly ticket only makes sense if you take at least 27 trips a month.  For many in the work-from-home crowd this isn’t their new reality.

If all of this is confusing, MTA does have a cool online fare calculator (https://fares.mta.info/) showing your lowest price option based on your travel patterns.  Plug in your stations, number of trips each month, peak and off-peak, and it recommends the “best” kind of ticket to buy.

Why is MTA killing the 20-trip ticket?  They say it’s because “post-COVID travel patterns continue to return to normal.”  But that’s obviously not what’s happening.

Ridership on Metro-North has flatlined at 70% of pre-COVID numbers for over a year now.  Efforts by employers to force their workers back into the office are still not working.  People prefer to not commute if they can.

The MTA’s claim of “a return to normal” also runs counter to what the CDOT is about to do in reducing service on the least-traveled days, Mondays and Fridays.  That decision is already baked into the new state budget but details are pending.

When I asked CDOT to comment on this apparent contradiction I never got a reply.  Even though CDOT sets fares in Connecticut, they’re clearly not in synch with Metro-North.  So think of this new move by Metro-North (effective Sunday August 20th along with fare hikes on the subways and buses in NYC) as a not-so hidden fare increase.

When the 20 trip tickets were introduced in 2022 they were a “carrot”.  Now Metro-North is going with a “stick”.

Higher fares won’t incentivize the work-from-home crowd back to the train. They may actually do the opposite.  As commuter Sini says,   “I think the MTA’s decision (to eliminate the 20 trip ticket) is a short sighted fare policy mistake that will drive some commuters that have in-office flexibility to commute less frequently.”

Workers now have a stronger argument with their bosses that they’ll be more productive (as well as saving time, stress and money) by not commuting.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at [email protected].”

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