Metro-North: Should Everyone Pay the Same?

Local commissioner pushing to ‘right an unfair burden’ 

A Putnam County legislative panel on Tuesday (Nov. 17) endorsed a call for Metro-North Railroad to charge a flat fee for tickets between Grand Central Station and suburban destinations, including Cold Spring, Garrison and Beacon. 

Under the commuter railroad’s current policy, as the miles from Grand Central Station increase, so do the costs of tickets, whether purchased for an individual trip or as weekly or monthly passes. 

Fares for monthly peak tickets on the Hudson Line from Grand Central range from $186 to Harlem/125th Street to $521 to Poughkeepsie. The fare to Cold Spring and Garrison is $427 monthly and to Beacon, $475. Individual one-way fares range from $8.25 to $25.75. The fares are the same on the Harlem line, which serves eastern Putnam and southeastern Dutchess.

The median fares are $353 per month and $16.13 per ride. 

The unanimous vote by the three-person Physical Services Committee sent to the full Legislature a proposed resolution supporting the flat-rate initiative, championed by Neal Zuckerman, a Garrison resident who represents Putnam County on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, which oversees the railroad.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, whose district covers Philipstown, expressed her support for the idea, as did other legislators. Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast, which has a stop on the Harlem line, proposed the resolution.

Under Zuckerman’s plan, outlined in a memo to MTA officials, riders would pay the same for any Metro-North trip between Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties and Grand Central. 

If the plan were adopted, “riders farther from Grand Central would pay less and those riders who are closer in will pay more,” he said. “The increase to those closer in would be relatively modest, while those farther away and paying upward of two times more would see a significant reduction.”

In Putnam, Dutchess and northern Westchester counties, the annual cost of train tickets plus parking reached $6,000, and commuters who need a MetroCard for trips within the city often paid an additional $1,500, pre-COVID, he said.

Zuckerman said his alternative means “righting an unfair burden” and “eliminating a doubly regressive tax.” He said the latter arises because “the cost of commuting is higher the farther away one lives and there is a loose, if not perfect, correlation between wealth in the closer-in Westchester suburbs — e.g., Bronxville, Scarsdale — versus farther out Putnam and Dutchess communities.”

A flat price would also be more “democratic” and emulate the New York City subway system, which allows someone to travel from distant neighborhoods of Brooklyn or Queens into Midtown Manhattan at the same cost as a rider from the Upper East Side, Zuckerman said.

Finally, he maintained, flat-price ticketing “is just easier to manage, administer and understand.” 

He acknowledged that “the entire MTA is in severe financial straits” but noted that the MTA board is engaged in a periodic price-setting review, making it “the right time to consider how we can address historic imbalances.” 

Montgomery, whose husband, James Lovell, was killed in a Metro-North derailment in 2013, said Zuckerman’s plan “shows how entities, especially government entities, need to change the way they do things, especially for an organization like the MTA, which was grossly mismanaged and has been very greedy over the years. To do something like this and to present it to them, to insist that they look out for the people they serve, is a great idea.”

Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, another town on the Harlem line, said the current ticket pricing “hurts our economies here” because it can make living in Putnam difficult when commuters must spend so much money to reach their jobs as well as endure a longer train ride. 

If approved by the full Legislature, the resolution would be sent to MTA Chair Patrick Foye. 

One thought on “Metro-North: Should Everyone Pay the Same?

  1. Thank you, Commissioner Zuckerman, Legislator Montgomery and Legislator Jonke for your advocacy on this proposal. Not only are commuters in Upper Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess paying higher fares, they are receiving less frequent and less reliable service compared to stations closer to Grand Central Terminal. (And let’s not get started on the varying quality and conditions of the cars!)

    How will this proposal affect station-to-station pricing along the line? Would prices between Beacon and Cold Spring, or Cold Spring and Irvington go up or go down? While we want to make ridership costs as fair as possible, it shouldn’t be on the backs of commuters using only a portion of the line, who might not even get as far as the Bronx or Manhattan.