ISSUE AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
During 1997 the Council dealt with a number of issues affecting commuters - from threatened rail service to fare increases:
· Proposed Rail Service Shutdowns:
The Council fought the Governor's proposal to end rail service on the Danbury, Waterbury and Shore Line East branches and replace it with buses. The Governor's goal was to reallocate rail funds to underwrite a decrease in the gas tax -- but those rail lines serve thousands of commuters who go not just to New York but to jobs along the Danbury/Norwalk, Waterbury/Bridgeport and Guilford/New Haven corridors. The Council felt the proposal would harm both commuters and the state:
· The congestion created by trying to run multiple buses up and down those corridors would result in serious delays and broken scheduling, making it nearly impossible for commuters to make connections or to reach their jobs or homes on time.
· The heavier traffic of buses - and commuters giving up and taking to their cars -- would also increase fuel emissions, threatening the state's compliance with the Clean Air Act.
· The loss of rail service would not only strain the surface road infrastructure, but would sharply decrease property values in those corridors, eroding the tax bases needed to fund schools and community services.
· Killing service would be a major step backward and prove so expensive to resume in the future -- when it became evident that busing would not work -- that any benefits of a tax savings would be forever wiped out.
The Council mounted a grassroots campaign targeted to legislators, the media and commuters, and testified at all public hearings.
The result: the governor withdrew his proposal - and the legislature was nonetheless still able to lower the gas tax.
· 1998 Fare Increases:
Several years ago the Council worked with Metro-North and the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation to stop the practice of raising fares by as much as 20% every few years, advocating instead that the increases be broken into smaller, more regular increments for easier commuter budgeting. Once that was accomplished the Council has generally voted in favor of subsequent increases.
However, the Council opposed, through announcements and public hearing testimonies, the approximately 5% fare increase scheduled to go into effect January 1, 1998:
· The increase is nearly double the cost of living because it isn't tied to it - it's designed to decrease the state's subsidy of operating deficits. The Council supports the plan to reduce taxpayer subsidies, but not the fact that the size of Connecticut's subsidy is set by its disproportionately larger burden of the total deficit shared with New York. Connecticut is trying to pay down its 63.3% ongoing share, while New York's portion is only 36.7%, enabling it to have fewer fare increases (the last one was in 1995 and the next one will be after 1999). The Council advocates a restructuring of each state's share to make it more equitable.
· The Council would like Connecticut Metro-North to examine whether or not it's doing the maximum to operate efficiently and control costs, rather than relying on increases on a line that already has the highest farebox return in the U.S.
· The level of service has not increased - and this year riders had to fight to keep even existing service on the Danbury, Waterbury and Shore Line East branches.
· The fare increases are reaching a point of market resistance, especially when coupled with the difficulty and cost commuters have with parking. If this point is passed commuters may look at their personal budgets and return to their cars.
The result: The increase will go into effect for the Connecticut-New York fares - but there will be no increases on any intrastate fares (those between stops within Connecticut itself.)
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