Thursday, May 30, 2024

Service Cuts & Fare Hike

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“Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron

How’s this for a double-whammy? CDOT is proposing a cut in train and bus service while also raising fares… just as I predicted months ago.

Blame both plans on COVID and what it did to ridership… still down about 30% on Metro-North compared with 2019… but climbing, day by day.

On Shore Line East, CDOT’s railroad from New Haven to New London, the ridership is down 68% from pre-COVID numbers. Low ridership like that, says CDOT, is unsustainable.

That’s why the agency is proposing to cut two Metro-North trains per day, Monday through Thursday, but eliminate eight trains a day on Fridays when ridership is now the lightest. On Shore Line East instead of 23 trains, a day there will only be 16.

This is how to kill a railroad. Reduce service, make the train a less reliable option further discouraging ridership, then use the accelerating decline in passengers as an excuse for more service cuts… rinse and repeat.

The problem is CDOT has not announced which trains are being cut, just how many. Riders’ reactions will depend on whether or not ‘their’ train is affected.

What will this mean to peoples’ lives? Just look at the effect of service reductions imposed by Amtrak on September 5th on Shore Line East due to track work. Where 22 trains used to run each day, now there are just 14.

For reasons never explained by CDOT, this track work is being done in the daytime, not at night when the impact on trains would be minimal. Nor was there any substitute bus service planned as was run in years past.

For student Cassie Bianchi this service cut meant she had to drop out of college.
This Westbrook student used to take a bus, a train and another bus to attend classes at Southern CT State University in New Haven. But her UPass student ticket is not honored on Amtrak. And, with the reduced service she’d have to leave home at 6 a.m. to catch a 7:03 a.m. train to make it to her 10 a.m. class. The return trip would get her home at 8:30 p.m. Talk about unsustainable.
For bus riders there will also be cuts on routes running across the state, and yes, fare increases are also proposed: almost 6% on Metro-North and 5% on Shore Line East. Mind you, there hasn’t been a fare hike since 2018 so these hikes don’t even cover inflation.

What can be done to stop all this? Not much, given that these changes were baked into CDOT’s budget this spring. In other words, you can thank your state lawmakers (and Governor Lamont) for this double whammy. They approved the reduced spending, but with CDOT’s support, I might add.

Sure, there will be public hearings in October, two held ‘virtually’ and two in person. But why are those hearings being held in New Haven and Hartford and not in Stamford or Bridgeport or Old Saybrook where those affected by these plans actually live and ride?

One might think that CDOT’s leaders are trying to avoid their customers’ rage. And one wouldn’t be wrong. These hearings are what I call “political theater”: cathartic but an illusion. You think your opinions matter and might change minds, but let’s face it: this is a done deal.

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 CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”

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