WILTON, Conn. – State representatives from Wilton and Fairfield joined forces at a news conference Tuesday at the Wilton train station to sound off on the rise in commuter fares.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, started putting together a bill in January that would keep all money from fare increases on rail or bus tickets in the operating budgets of the trains and buses.
“Commuters, rail and bus passengers and particularly Metro-North commuters, are basically being taken for a ride by the state of Connecticut,” said Lavielle, who also represents part of Norwalk. The state is raising ticket prices for trains and buses by 4 percent on top of an increase to fund new rail cars.
“These increases were originally introduced last year as a way to balance the budget in case the state employee unions did not sign the agreement for concessions,” Lavielle said. “They did sign it and yet these stayed on the table.”
The 4 percent hike will continue each year until 2014. The concern is that the fare increases will not be used to better the rail and bus systems but to fill gaps in the budget, Lavielle said.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, agreed, adding that a majority of her constituents are commuters.
“Metro-North is the busiest rail in the entire nation – not just the state – the entire nation,” Kupchick said. “The taxes that they’re paying in their increased rail fee should improve their experience as commuters.”
These increases represent about $11.5 million in new transportation revenue, and Lavielle said Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget already cuts the mass transit budget by $12 million.
“Essentially, commuters are being taxed to take mass transit, which most of them really have no alternative to, and the money is being used for whatever the state thinks it should be used for,” Lavielle said.
Connecticut commuters pay the highest fares in the country, said Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron. If commuters were told that the increased fare money would not be used to make their commute better, they would be “gobsmacked” and mad, he said.
Lavielle encouraged all commuters to contact the Transportation Committee about the raise in fares by emailing the committee clerk by Friday at firstname.lastname@example.org.