This week, updates on a few interesting developments in transportation:
PEAK FARES: On March 1, Metro-North will again start charging peak fares during rush hours. But the railroad will also offer new discounts: 10% off a monthly pass and discounted 20-trip tickets. On the subways and buses they’ll give passengers free rides for the week after they pay 12 one-way fares via the new OMNY scanners. They’re calling it “fare capping,” giving frequent riders free rides after paying $33.
ADDED SERVICE?: The railroad says it’s evaluating adding more service, speeding up express trains etc. But no plans have been announced. Bottom line: rush hour passengers will pay more but get no faster nor more frequent trains.
RIDERSHIP FLAT: Many New York City businesses have finally called their employees back to the office at least a few days each week. Station parking lots are filling up again, but weekday ridership is still only about 40 to 45% of pre-pandemic numbers, far below the railroad’s consultants’ expectations thanks to Omicron.
CATHERINE RINALDI: With this past week’s surprise retirement of Long Island Rail Road President Philip Eng, Metro-North’s CEO Catherine Rinaldi has been named interim-president of the railroad. Rinaldi’s career started on the LIRR and she is widely respected in the industry, if now spread a bit thin.
FREE TRANSIT: We should closely watch Boston’s experiment with free bus fares on its three most heavily traveled routes. Something like 100,000 daily riders will see faster service as they can now board by all doors, speeding up dwell time at stops. The experiment furthers Boston Mayor Michele Wu’s dreams of free transit city-wide and is being paid for with $8 million in COVID relief money from DC. (NYC already offers 50% discount on MetroCards for low income residents.)
CRUMBLING CONCRETE: Darien’s train station saw 200 feet of the NY-bound platform closed for safety reasons this week when inspections found the decades-old concrete structure was crumbling. The station was already planned for a $34 million platform replacement program, apparently not implemented in time to avoid this situation.
WI-FI ON METRO-NORTH: You can “surf” on planes, many buses and even Amtrak. But you can’t find Wi-Fi on Metro-North as the railroad seems uninterested in investing in the tech, and probably with good reason. But now Gov. Ned Lamont is offering to invest $30 million in onboard Wi-Fi, just as 5G cellphone technology is being rolled out, possibly making Wi-Fi obsolete. No response yet from the railroad on the governor’s plan.
LAMONT’S BUDGET: Given that it’s an election year and the state is enjoying a record surplus, the governor kicked off the short legislative session with a number of big spending ideas. Backed by $1 billion in federal infrastructure spending for the state, Lamont has doubled-down on expanding service on the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines. And yes, he’s still pretending it’s feasible to cut 30 minutes running time each way between New Haven and New York City.
IS COVID DONE?: Masks are coming off (but not yet on transit, per the Feds) and things seem to be reopening. Still, Connecticut is averaging about 19 deaths a week from COVID-19. Half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are vaccinated breakthrough cases. So is COVID-19 done or are we just done with it?
Jim Cameron will present his talk “Off the Rails: CT’s Transportation Future” at 10 a.m., Friday, Feb. 18 speaking to the New Canaan Men’s Club at St Mark’s Church in New Canaan. Videos of the club’s speakers are also broadcast on zoom.com.
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for more than 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, sits on the Merritt Parkway Conservancy board and also serves on the Darien RTM and as program director for Darien TV79. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.