FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Advocates for Metro-North riders are asking that money raised by fare increases be spent on train services. Gov. Dan Malloy’s proposed budget for next fiscal year calls for $9.8 million in rail subsidies to be added to the Special Transportation Fund, which can be used for any transportation projects.
Train fare increased 5.25 percent on Jan. 1 and is due to increase by the same amount for the next two years. The increase is expected to bring in $9.25 million in additional train revenue this year.
Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, which advocates for passengers, says that money should be spent to improve train services. “Our concern is that the commuters did not want this increase, and now the money is not being spent on trains.”
Cameron said the Special Transportation Fund is supposed to be a “lock-box” the state can use for transportation projects. But, Cameron says, the fund has regularly been dipped into to balance the budget or fund projects unrelated to transportation.
“The DOT said it needed more money for the railroads and argued for this fare increase," he says of the state Department of Transportation. "I would think they would want to be able to spend it on trains.”
But train riders are not carrying a burden to pay for other transportation services, said Kevin Nursick of the DOT. Fares did not increase for seven years before this increase, but the trains continued to receive subsidies through the Special Transportation Fund.
"If fares were the only way to pay for train service, you would see a massive reduction in services," Nursick said.
Money raised from gas taxes goes into the Special Transportation Fund and is in turn spent on trains, Nursick said. The extra fare money going into the fund was fair and equitable, he said.
"By no means is the transit commuter on the losing end of this deal," Nursick said.
The Commuter Council has endorsed a bill proposed by state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton and Norwalk, that would require money from the fare hikes to be spent on trains and hope that commuters will support the bill so that it goes in front of the Transportation Committee.