MNRCC Testimony – Sept 13, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increases

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Testimony of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Before the MTA Board on Proposed
Fare Increases
Hilton Gardens Inn
Newburgh, Orange County, NY

September 13, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is Randy Glucksman. I am a member of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC).  As you know, the MNRCC was established in 1981 by the State Legislature to represent the MNR riders.  Our volunteer members are recommended by the local officials in Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Putnam and Orange Counties and the Brooklyn and Queens Borough Presidents and appointed by the Governor.

As representatives of Metro-North riders, we have long believed that riders should be willing to do their part to meet the financial needs of the system on which they depend and thus have been willing to accept periodic, moderate fare increases to preserve and improve rail service.  At this time, we are convinced that the need is real; the MTA is in a precarious financial position and must increase revenue if it is to continue to provide essential services.  We are confident that efficiency improvements will make a positive contribution toward easing the MTA’s fiscal strains over the long run, but the current gap cannot be bridged entirely through internal belt tightening.  We cannot accept, however, that the riders should bridge this gap by themselves.

The MTA’s finances are in large part shaped by an agreement reached in May 2009 between the State and MTA that included increased State financial assistance through new taxes and fees on motorists, taxi users, and business and increased rider support through a program of regular fare adjustments.  The riders are being held to their substantial responsibilities under this bargain, but now they stand alone.  New state revenues have failed to meet projections and $143 million in revenues that have been promised for the operation of MTA services have been used to eliminate deficits in the State’s general fund.

For the record, since 2007, West of Hudson riders destined to NY Penn Station have seen their fares increased four times.  It began on June 1, 2007 when NJ Transit implemented a 9.6% increase; which was followed by MTA increases of about 4% on March 1, 2008 and 10% on June 17, 2009; and finally this past May 1; NJ Transit raised rail fares by 25%.  But what does this mean to the average commuter?  If you raise fares in January as is being proposed, for a Rockland County resident, the monthly fare will have risen from $215 to $270 which is $55/month or $660/year and an Orange County resident who boards the train in Middletown, the fare would have risen from $288 to $368 – $80 a month or $960/year.

Do you want to know where the revenues are?  I’ll tell you – very simply it is not being collected by train crews.  Some PCAC members have observed instances of train crews not collecting tickets.  A friend told me of a ride taken from Penn Station to Speonk on September 2, where no one bothered to collect tickets during the entire 2 hour and 18 minute trip and there was no crowd condition which would have precluded this task.  This clearly cries out for intervention by railroad management due to huge losses of this much-needed revenue.  And last Monday, I met friends who were visiting from out of town and had used the subway.  They mentioned that they could not understand the system of the emergency gates because they had seen far more people using them to enter the system then exit through them.  Clearly, Transit Police must be directed to focus on this area, again, to stem revenue losses.

After due consideration, we must oppose any fare increases as presently constituted because the plan advanced by the MTA gives the rider no hope that conditions will be improved.  These proposals are just another case of riders paying more and getting less, but riders deserve better.  Metro-North riders already pay a greater percentage of the cost of providing service than in any major commuter rail system in the nation, and through the first five months of this year, this figure has risen to 57.2 percent.

We demand that the members of the MTA Board and MTA senior management work vigorously both internally and with our State and Federal elected officials to find alternative means of filling the gap between costs and revenues; to increasingly shift this burden to riders is unacceptable.

Aside from the larger issues involved here, these proposals also include several “stealth” fare increases, such as on-board and step up fares which would be rounded up to the next dollar and the discounts on joint monthly tickets and MetroCards and on Mail and Ride and WebTickets which would be reduced and eliminated, respectively.  While there may be legitimate reasons for adjusting the fare structure, these provisions have an air of increasing demands on the rider while keeping the stated fare yield increase at 7.5 percent.

More objectionable, however, is the proposed change in the validity period of one way, round trip, and ten trip tickets.  Perhaps a ticket should not be valid forever, but to make single tickets expire in seven days and ten trip tickets expire in three months appears to be nothing but a money-grab on the part of the MTA.

Riders who paid for a ticket should have a reasonable opportunity to use it.  Similarly, to impose refund service charges approaching or exceeding the cost of a ticket displays a decided hostility to the customer, and the MNRCC finds this unwarranted.  While there may be a cost involved in processing refunds, it is a part of customer service, like providing service information.

The members of the MNRCC believe that their fellow riders value the excellent service that they receive and should be willing financially support it.  We are generally willing to accept periodic moderate fare increases, but we cannot endorse the current fare proposals.  We call on the MTA Board to similarly reject these proposals.

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