Increases to all Highlands tolls except weekly and monthly from Beacon
By Chip Rowe
Metro-North increased its fares on Sunday (April 21), including those for passengers on trains that stop in the Highlands on their way to and from Grand Central Station. Another hike is expected in 2021.
The increase was approved on Feb. 27 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board by a 12-2 vote. Neal Zuckerman, a Garrison resident who represents Putnam County on the board, voted “yes” but expressed concern for Hudson Line riders, noting they are among Metro-North’s best customers in terms of what they pay. (The representatives for Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Rockland counties have one collective vote on the board, but the Dutchess and Rockland seats are vacant.)
The only commuter prices that didn’t go up in the Highlands were for weekly and monthly tickets from Beacon, which remain at $152 and $475. The price of family-fare tickets when children travel with adults also did not increase.
The MTA says the money is needed immediately to help cover a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2019. But Fernando Ferrer, the board’s acting chair, said in a statement that the agency needs “fundamental reform” for its long-term health and for capital improvements.
In addition to the fare increases, the agency rolled back weekday peak pricing to exclude trains arriving at Grand Central before 6 a.m., rather than 5 a.m. On the Hudson Line, the change affected only the 4:12 a.m. train out of Poughkeepsie that arrives at Grand Central at 5:53 a.m. The end of the peak pricing period remained at 10 a.m. and afternoon peak hours continue to be from 4 to 8 p.m. for trains departing Grand Central.
The vote also eliminated the 5 percent bonus given to New York City subway riders when they add more than $5.50 to fare cards and, as of May 1, the $50 MetroCards that can be purchased with monthly Metro-North tickets.
Although several MTA board members suggested on Feb. 27 that the vote be delayed to investigate alternatives, Ferrer noted the board had already deferred the vote at its January meeting and that delay cost the agency about $30 million in revenue.
Zuckerman, who is a partner and managing director in the New York office of the Boston Consulting Group, said in an email that he “begrudgingly” voted for the fare increase and gave these reasons:
(1) “The increase was predictable, part of a 10-year agreement to do biannual increases”;
(2) “It is modest, at or below inflation, with this one a maximum of 3.85 percent (or less than 2 percent per year), whereas inflation is around 2 percent per year”;
Riding the River
Increase in Hudson Line riders since 1988
Average number of morning commuters on Hudson Line to Grand Central
Average number of Hudson Line riders arriving at Grand Central each week
(3) “Those of us who ride from the ends of the system — who pay the most and yet get the least in terms of service and stations — had a ceiling of a $15 increase on the monthly price and no increase above a $460 monthly ticket price. This means riders in Garrison and Cold Spring saw a 3.5 percent increase in their ticket and riders in Beacon and Patterson in eastern Putnam saw no increase in their monthly tickets — they stayed at $475. I fought for these two caps — the amount of increase and the absolute cost of the ticket — because our riders are paying the most of anyone across the MTA and there is a limit to how much we can afford, on top of car ownership, parking and, for many of us, a MetroCard in New York City”;
(4) “The MTA passed metrics — for the first time ever — that management must meet for on-time performance. If management does not meet these monthly and annual targets (93 percent is what was agreed to), future fare increases will be stunted if not stopped because the MTA didn’t meet the riders’ expectations”;
(5) “When we voted on this measure, before the governor enacted the congestion-pricing plan, the MTA was heading toward a deficit of $1 billion in 2022. An insolvent MTA is not acceptable to anyone. Without this price increase, that deficit would increase by $30 million every month.”
Zuckerman added that “safety is the No. 1 issue for Metro-North,” including implementing Positive Train Control to slow engines that are going too fast, but that he is also fighting for Hudson Line needs in the next capital plan, such as access into Penn Station, the electrification of the line between Croton and Poughkeepsie, and getting trains more quickly through Harlem/125th Street, where three lines come together and create a bottleneck.
He said that, “over time, I believe the MTA should move to a flat fare for Metro-North and Long Island Railroad riders, across each system, exactly as the subway has run since 1914. Those of us in Putnam and Dutchess counties and, for that matter, Suffolk County, on the end of Long Island, should not be penalized for where we live. The rise in fares for those farther south in Westchester can be set reasonably to create more equity across the whole system. It is one system and we should treat it like one system.”