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Transit Riders Beware: Fare Hikes, Service Cuts Coming

Ya-Ting Liu

June 06, 2010

Connecticut transit riders beware: Service cuts and fare hikes are just around the corner.

Even though state legislators maintained transportation funding levels this year, the state's transportation fund will face a deficit soon.

Last fall, Connecticut transit advocates and elected officials fought off a proposal by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to raise bus fares by 40 percent and rail fares by 10 percent. While advocates were able to curtail these hikes, we were unable to stop a 25-cent fare hike on Greater Bridgeport Transit bus service in 2008. The service now faces a $750,000 deficit, which could lead to cuts in bus service.

Unfortunately, our neighbors in New York and New Jersey are not as lucky. In a few weeks, 8 million straphangers in the New York City metro area will be slammed with less commuter rail, subway and bus service, more overcrowding, more delays and longer wait times as the MTA proceeds with systemwide service cuts to close its $800 million budget shortfall.

Earlier this month, NJ Transit raised bus and light rail fares 10 percent and commuter rail fares by 25 percent while slashing service on all train routes in the state, leaving 900,000 daily bus and train riders with longer and more costly commutes.

These cuts are just another indication that we are in the middle of a national transit crisis that will only get worse without immediate federal operating assistance. A recent report from the American Public Transportation Association shows the impacts of the recession on public transportation are not isolated to our region.

Across the country, 84 percent of public transit systems have raised fares, cut service or both at a time when record level number of Americans are relying on mass transit as a more affordable travel choice to access jobs, education, health care and opportunity. For some of the most vulnerable Americans including seniors and those with low incomes public transportation is the only way to access these essential services.

States and localities traditionally bear the responsibility for transit service, and rightfully so, but with so many of their own financial problems, most haven't been able to come to riders' rescue. Given the national crisis, it's time for the federal government to step in.

In December, the House of Representatives passed Jobs for Main Street Act of 2009, a bill that included an additional $8.4 billion for transit and allowed up to 10 percent of it to be used to alleviate operating deficits. Sen. Chris Dodd plans to introduce the Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010, a $2 billion emergency transit assistance bill that would help embattled transit agencies across the country restore and prevent service cuts, fare hikes and layoffs.

If we are to survive this recession, Congress must act now on this critical legislation. Keeping our buses and trains running is vital to creating jobs and getting to them.

The federal government has provided Connecticut with nearly $40 million in high-speed rail money for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield corridor, as well as millions of dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for transit capital projects.

But funding for vital capital improvements is only part of the equation. Transit riders need reliable and consistent service as well, not longer waits and more crowded trains and buses.

Ya-Ting Liu is the federal advocate for the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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