STAMFORD, Conn. — The train fare hikes proposed for Metro-North train riders should be derailed, speaker after speaker said at a hearing Wednesday afternoon at UConn-Stamford.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s announced plans last month to hike Metro-North’s fares by 5 percent to cover $37 million in cuts in the state budget for the Department of Transportation.
Greenwich State Rep. Mike Bocchino, R-150th District, urged the DOT to reject the fare hike and send it back to Malloy.
“Have some courage: kick this back to the governor, we are behind you,” Bocchino said.
Many non-politicians also stepped up to the microphone during the first of two hearings at UConn-Stamford.
Stamford resident Sheila Williams Brown said CTTransit bus riders like herself are dealing with cuts in services at the same time they are being asked to pay more. She also asked for more transparency in the system.
“If you are giving us a fare increase, please let us know what you are taking away. It’s only fair,” she said.
Bus fares would be increased to $1.75 from $1.50, along with a similar increase in express and prepaid bus fares, under the plan.
East Norwalk resident Terri Cronin said she has reduced her use of the train due to the cost and the time it takes in her day.
“I am actually not riding the train as much. And why? Because the prices are so high,” she said.
Although she acknowledged that Metro-North is experiencing increased ridership, Cronin said she believed that was driven more by tourists and one-time riders compared with regular commuters like herself.
The plan has already closed underused ticket windows at the Greenwich, South Norwalk and Bridgeport train stations, DOT said.
There was a heavy presence of state Republicans at the first hearing, with a half-dozen of them lining up to protest what they called a tax increase.
In comments before the hearing began, Fairfield state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132nd District, said she was disappointed there wasn’t a hearing in Fairfield — a town with three train stations.
“This is a lot of money, it’s not a little bit of money," she said of the 5 percent fare hike.
"It’s a lot of money and it is a huge increase," Kupchick said, adding she hoped DOT would listen to the concerns of riders.
Gail Lavielle, R-143rd District, who represents Wilton, Norwalk and Westport, said commuters are being “held hostage” because they have no choice but to pay because they have to go to work.
“This is yet just another increase on Metro-North commuters,” she said. “They are paying about 20 percent more than they were in 2012.”
Westport state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136th District, also spoke at the first hearing and voiced his opposition to the fare increase.
Some of the politicians stuck around for the second hearing in the evening and were joined by others.
Judith Bragin, 83, a Stamford resident who said she was speaking on behalf of seniors like herself who live on fixed incomes, said she finds it difficult to deal with any price hikes.
“This is going to impact us very strongly,” she said.
The proposed 5 percent rail fare increase would take effect Dec. 1 on the New Haven Line of Metro-North railroad and Shore Line East. The proposed bus fare increase would take effect on Dec. 4 on CTTransit and CTFastrak buses.
CTDOT's proposed increase on the trains would generate about $5.9 million in new revenue. On the New Haven Line, the increase would be combined with a 1 percent previously scheduled fare increase that supports the purchase of the new M-8 rail cars that the state put into service beginning in 2010.