Fare increases ranging from 6 to 16.7 percent on Connecticut’s rail and bus systems will be hitting Connecticut commuters in the pocketbook come December.
The increases, announced by Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker, are needed, in large part, to make up for cuts to the transportation budget made during the last General Assembly session.
“As we looked to meet our budget requirements, our primary goal was to maintain all existing bus and rail service statewide for the thousands of people who depend on them every day,” Redeker said. “Combined with other steps to reduce expenses, this fare increase allows us to meet that goal.”
Train fares will go up 6 percent, including a previously approved 1 percent increase; bus fares will go up 16.7 percent, or 25 cents on a single one-way CT Transit bus trip.
The fare increases follow a series of six public hearings around the state on the proposed rail and bus fare increases.
The rail fare increase will apply to the New Haven Line and Shore Line East on tickets purchased for travel to or from stations in Connecticut and will take effect December 1.
In addition to the fare increase, the current 2 percent discount on “Mail and Ride” tickets will be eliminated and the discount on the combined monthly rail ticket and unlimited-ride MetroCard will be reduced from 4 percent to 2 percent beginning with the purchase of December tickets.
The bus fare increase, effective December 4, will apply to the eight CT Transit service areas, including Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Bristol, New Britain, Stamford, Wallingford and Meriden, as well as CTfastrak.
The fare increases were quickly criticized by Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, the largest rail commuter advocacy group in the Connecticut, New York, New Jersey region.
“Nobody wanted this fare increase,” Cameron said. “Not Governor (Dannel P.) Malloy, not the DOT and certainly not the commuters.”
Cameron blames the General Assembly for cutting the Transportation Department’s budget.
“This cements Metro-North in Connecticut’s distinction as the most expensive commuter rail line in the U.S., despite years of declining service, reduced speeds and over-crowding,’’ Cameron said. “And I fear this fare hike is only the beginning.’’
Cameron wasn’t alone in his criticism of the fare hikes.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R- Wilton, the ranking senator on the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said: “This is yet another Connecticut tax hike, yet another burden, and yet another slap in the face to Connecticut commuters.”
She said the increase is on rates that have been hiked continually over the past six years. She said commuters spoke out against the fare hikes, but “their voices were ignored. There’s no other way to put it.”
Cameron said the solution to the never-ending fare hike dilemma is known by politicians.
“In January of this year, the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel identified potential solutions, none of which will be popular but all, or many of which, will be necessary: tolls on our highways; a vehicle miles tax; re-directed or increased sales taxes; raising the gasoline tax; higher DMV fees; land value appreciation recapture at transit oriented development sites; advertising wraps on our trains. And yes, more annual fare increases. This is Connecticut’s future and lawmakers, the governor and DOT know it.”
He said nobody in Hartford is being honest with commuters and taxpayers about what is to come.
“There must be systemic change in the way we pay for mass transit,” Cameron said. “We cannot keep taxing commuters under the guise of fare increases.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he tried to extend the special legislative session last week to stop the fare increases, but Democratic lawmakers refused to expand the call.
“Their refusal to take action is an absolute endorsement of this direct tax increase on working and middle class families who use public transit,” Fasano said.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Republicans need to stop the political posturing without offering solutions.
“The DOT should prioritize its spending and cancel this fare hike,” Looney said. “Rail and bus service is the lifeblood of economic development. Connecticut’s hardworking men and women depend on timely, reliable, affordable service.”