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MNRCC Testimony – Sept 21, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increases

Testimony of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Before the MTA Board on Proposed Fare Increases
White Plains Performing Arts Center
White Plains, Westchester County, N.Y.

September 21, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is David Buchwald. I am the acting Chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Metro-North Railroad riders.  The MNRCC was established in 1981 by the State Legislature to represent the MNR riders.  Our volunteer members are recommended by the Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Putnam and Orange County Executives and the Bronx Borough President and appointed by the Governor of the state.

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.  Though the current budget gap cannot be bridged entirely through internal belt tightening, we believe that the MTA must make improvements in efficiency as a contribution toward easing the MTA’s fiscal strains over the long run.  But even with that, we cannot accept that the riders should bridge the remainder of the 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 reduce shortfalls in the State’s general fund.

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, as on-board and step up fares would be rounded up to the next dollar and the discounts on joint monthly tickets and MetroCards and on Mail and Ride and WebTickets 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 more than a generator of additional revenue for 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 our fellow riders value the excellent service that they receive and should be willing to 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.