As predicted in this column, the legislature has approved Gov. Ned Lamont’s new budget which will cause cuts in train service in the state.
Why the cuts? Post-COVID train ridership has not returned as fast as CDOT or Metro-North had hoped or predicted, stabilizing now at about 71% of pre-2020 numbers. Though it looks like passenger loads are increasing (with more anecdotal reports of standing-room-only conditions at rush hour), the lack of riders means huge, unsustainable losses.
Which trains will be cut? Despite inquiries to both Metro-North and the Connecticut Department of Transportation seeking details, all I’ve got in response was “stay tuned, we’ll let you know.” But the tea leaves indicate mid-day trains will be all but eliminated on Shore Line East and significantly cut back on Metro-North. Rush hour trains may also be affected.
When will this happen? The new budget takes effect July 1, but these service cuts probably won’t happen until “the fall,” i.e. after Labor Day.
What about a fare increase? The MTA (parent of Metro-North and the city subways and buses) has already announced a 4% fare hike, also in the fall. Though Connecticut DOT sets fares in our state, there’s every expectation that Metro-North riders here will also see a fare increase.
Higher fares, less service. Now, there’s a winning combination.
Won’t there be public hearings? Oh yeah, they’re required by law anytime there’s a fare hike or major reduction in service. CDOT will offer its “equity & environmental justice” analysis of the impact of both on its customers.
But these hearings will just be political theater. They will make for great TV… angry commuters, ranting about bad service, lack of seats and higher fares. It’s all very cathartic but doesn’t change a thing. Whatever gets said, these decisions have been locked-in by the budget that’s just been passed. It’s the accountants at OPM (Office of Policy & Management) that really run our commuter rail, not CDOT.
What can we do now to save the trains? Nothing. That opportunity passed weeks ago when the budget was being finalized and the governor was distracting public attention by dangling the shiny objects of a tax cut and bringing NHL hockey to Hartford.
What will the effect of all this be? Reduced train service will initially cause more crowding. Then commuters will opt for “work from home” or, when necessary, driving. That will mean even more crowded highways and worse air pollution. Further reducing ridership will increase deficits and calls for greater service cuts, feeding into what we call the ”transit death spiral.”
Transit oriented development projects will be scaled back. Why live next to a train station with fewer, more expensive trains? And the value of your home will also be in peril for the same reason.
Does any of this make sense from a governor who preaches faster trains, greener environment and more housing? Of course not.
But as wiser minds once told me: “Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they DO.”