Services won’t be cut, but Connecticut commuters will see the first in a series of fare hikes Jan. 1 that will increase fares by more than 12 percent over the next three years under a plan announced Friday by the Department of Transportation.
CTTransit bus passengers are facing a 12 percent hike over the next three years, while rail commuters on Metro-North’s New Haven Line and Shore Line East will see fares increase 15.25 percent over that same period of time.
The fare hikes were proposed after the unions failed to pass the first $1.6 billion concession package and were part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s ‘Plan B‘ budget. The package was eventually adopted but the 16.4 percent proposed rail fare hike and 10 percent bus fare hike remained.
Commuters were unanimously against any fare hike.
After first proposing a 16.4 percent increase in rail fares rail and a 10 percent bus fare increase, the DOT is now calling for far more modest increases over a period of seven years. The bus fares will go up 4 percent at the beginning of each of the next three calendar years. In addition, as part of previously approved legislation to help pay for the new M-8 rail cars now being put into service, rail fares will increase another 1.25 percent on Jan. 1, 2012, and an additional 1 percent on January 1 of 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Under the plan, CTTransit bus riders will see their fare increase from $1.25 to $1.30 per ride in January 2012. Under the initial proposal they faced a 10 cent increase in a one-ride fare. The nickel fare increase will be followed by additional four percent fare increases in 2013 and 2014.
The fare hike for Metro-North commuters will translate to a 75-cent increase on a peak ticket, but will add $13 to $21 to the cost of a monthly pass.
Operating costs on Metro-North Railroad have increased 12 percent since the last fare increase in January 2005, according to the DOT.
This is the first time fares have been increased in seven years.
“We have held the line on fare increases since January 1, 2005,” DOT Commissioner James Redeker said in a press release. “During that time, however, operating expenses grew by 12 percent due to inflation. I believe it is now reasonable to impose some modest increases.”
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, disagrees. He said he doesn’t believe the fare hikes are necessary or will actually be used to improve service.
“These fare increases are not to cover the cost of running the railroad but to balance the state budget,” Cameron said on his blog. “What they amount to is nothing less than a ‘tax’ on commuters, an attractive target with few alternatives.“
“Our fares are already the highest of any commuter railroad in the US. Now they’ll be even higher. Even the railroad’s own computer models suggest these higher fares will reduce ridership,” Cameron wrote.
Instead, of increasing fares, Cameron suggested Metro-North could do a better job of collecting all the tickets on the trains.
“While I commend the Department of Transportation 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,“ Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said. “The increase of more than 5 percent during each of the next three years may seem better than the potential 16 percent in the first year that was proposed, but this fare hike was not suggested during the normal budget process and was only later threatened as a response to a concession package that was in jeopardy.“
She said the fare increase should have been taken off the table when the concession package was approved.
Republican lawmakers, such as Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said these fare hikes will impact some of the same residents who just experienced the largest tax hike in the state’s history.
“Less than five months after passing the largest tax increase and most expensive budget in state history, the Malloy administration is already demanding more money from our beleaguered commuters to cover expenses that should have been anticipated during the budget setting process,” McKinney said.
But Redeker said his strategy is to more fairly distribute the cost of covering operating expenses between riders and non-riding Connecticut taxpayers who fund the subsidy.
In addition to the fare hikes, Redeker also announced Friday that a task force has been formed to examine the operations of the state’s two Connecticut River ferries.
The ferries operate on a seasonal basis between Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, and between Chester and Hadlyme. Task force members will provide input on service schedules, expenses, fares and other revenue and marketing opportunities. The DOT will have a new plan in place by the time the next ferry operating season begins in the spring of 2012.