A stranger walked up to me the other day while I was waiting for the train. “Are you Jim Cameron?” he asked. “I sure am,” I said, expecting a tirade of complaints about the railroad, the fares and the stations.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” he said. “You guys on the Commuter Council do a great job looking out for commuters.” We shook hands, and as he departed, I got a little misty-eyed.
The 15 members of the CT Metro-North Rail Commuter Council are all commuters, just like you. We’re appointed by Hartford pols and receive no compensation and have no budget. We meet monthly with Metro-North and CDOT and pay our own way.
And here’s what we did on your behalf this past year:
Stamford garage — We stopped CDOT from a secret sell-out of the old garage at the Stamford station to private developers. Our leafleting and outreach forced public hearings and, finally, the appointment by Gov. Malloy of a five-person task force to represent the public and commuters’ interests in reviewing proposals for a new garage.
Quiet cars — For five years, the Commuter Council has been beseeching Metro-North to embrace the idea of a cell phone-free “quiet car” on each train. This year our cries were finally answered, giving commuters a better option for what the railroad calls a “Quiet CALMmute.”
New service — At the request of the council, CDOT and Metro-North improved service for riders from the Rowayton, East Norwalk, Southport, and Greens Farms stations. While those stations used to have trains only every two hours off-peak, now they have hourly service.
New cars — For a decade, the council has been pushing for new cars to replace our worn-out fleet. Now they are arriving at the rate of 10 a month. That means you have a 50% chance of riding the new M8 cars in rush hours and a 66% chance of enjoying them on weekends. When the last of the 400+ new cars is delivered, the old fleet will be scrapped.
Ticket expirations — Last year, Metro-North pulled a fast one and shortened the validity period for tickets. One-way tickets, which used to be good for a month, became worthless after 14 days. And 10-trip tickets, previously valid for a year, expired after six months. The council (and, apparently, hundreds of riders) protested, and recently the railroad relented, returning the single-ride tickets to 60 days validity.
As much as we have accomplished, there’s still more to be done:
Parking — Having expanded our fleet of cars by 15%, CDOT has done nothing to expand station parking in southwest Fairfield County. If we want people to take the train, we’ve got to get them to the station, and that means more parking at all the major stations.
Ticket collection — The council is still concerned that conductors are not doing their jobs and collecting all fares. Metro-North says it’s not cost-efficient to staff trains with enough conductors to get all tickets, yet they ask for higher fares claiming they are losing money.
Bikes on the trains — Years ago when our broken-down cars were standing room only, we opposed the idea of allowing bicycles on the trains. That’s changed. Now we have more cars and seats for all. So it’s time for Metro-North to live up to its promise to install bike hooks in cars.
What are your concerns about commuting? Contact us and let us know how we can best represent you: CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or trainweb.org/CT.
Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years. He is chairman of the CT Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or trainweb.org/ct. For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.