Rail fares may get fatter. Train schedules may get leaner, including a curtailment of weekend schedules on branch lines. All this could happen unless legislators agree to put more money in the state’s Special Transportation Fund, according to the state’s Department of Transportation and a threat by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Rail rates may be hiked in Connecticut by 10% as early as July 2018, and $6.5 million would be cut from planned improvements that would impact Darien as part of Malloy’s threat to cut $4.3 billion from the state’s transportation budget. He outlined the cuts in transportation projects, on Jan. 10.

“These changes are contingent on action by the legislature. If they have an adequate plan in place by July 1, nothing should change. The Connecticut DOT does not make recommendations on additional revenues for the General Assembly to act on. It is up to the governor and the legislature to make those recommendations and then implement them. The most frequently talked-about revenue increase would be in the gasoline tax, which is now 25-cents a gallon in Connecticut.” Connecticut Department of Transportation Director of Communication Judd Everhart said in an email to the New Canaan Advertiser.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said fare increases and service cuts seem inevitable unless a reliable and protected funding source can be identified and implemented in the near term. ”

“The fate of the Special Transportation Fund has been widely known for several years…now we have a fire drill for funding,” Stevenson said.

“This, along with the Governor’s draconian blanket cuts to all transportation projects perpetuates the issue of “uncertainty” around the future of CT transportation systems, which we all agree is one of the major drivers of economic development,” she said.

Stevenson said Darien enjoys “a unique proximity to NYC and many people choose to live here and commute from our two stations because of that.”

“Paying more for reduced service and unmet maintenance needs moves CT in the wrong direction. In addition, fare increases in general make commuter rail less accessible for people of limited means which means more cars on the already-congested roadways,” she said.

State Rep. Terrie Wood, whose 141st district contains Darien and part of Rowayton, called it “deeply disappointing” that fare hikes would even be a consideration let alone at 10%.

it’s wrong for so many reasons. Metro-North should be providing efficient first rate service, more trains and increased frequency to keep and attract riders. It’s essential to encourage more people to take the train rather than drive and better train service at a reasonable cost is part of that effort,” she said.

“The mismanagement of our state finances by Gov. Malloy and the Democratic legislative leaders who control both the House and the Senate -- will likely result in a fare hike,” Wood said. “ In July, Governor Malloy and the legislature had the opportunity to bring the cost of running state government inline with other states when a new state employee union agreement was voted upon,” she said.

Wood said all the Democrats ( except one) “voted to support a continuation of benefits to the state union workers - while modified slightly - are still the highest in the country and are locked in place for another 10 years.”

“The Democrats who are serving in the legislature are beholden to the union leaders over the good of the state. As a result of this missed opportunity to bring benefits to a practical level, expenses in other part of the budget like transportation will rise. This does not represent common sense or respect to the people of our state.

Wood said.

Sen. Bob Duff, who represents the 25th district including Norwalk and part of Darien, and serves as Senate Majority Leader, said he is “vehemently opposed to the potential fare increase. I’ve always fought for commuters.”

“That’s why I led the charge to create a transportation lockbox and dedicate a stream of funding for transportation projects. At the same time I’ve helped defeat attempts to cap state funding for projects,” he said.

“While the proposal and ultimate decision is one of the Department of Transportation, I firmly believe that commuters don't need a fare increase. Connecticut’s transportation system should encourage mass transit, get cars off our busy highways and promote economic develop and job creation. This proposal is a misguided grab at funding absent of a long term vision or strategy,” Duff said.

In addition to the fare hikes, there are proposed cuts to off-peak rail service on the New Canaan, Danbury, Waterbury and Shore Line East rail lines.

While cuts to branch service won’t directly impact Darien residents, who have two stations on the main New Haven line, in terms of train service, Commuter advocate Jim Cameron said “those would-be travelers will now have to drive down to the mainline stations, further crowding already maxed-out station parking lots.|

“What worries me most is the governor's call to freeze $4.3 billion in future transportation projects. Coupled with a potential 15% staff layoff at CDOT, that means fewer "shovel ready" projects in the pipeline if and when funding is found by, for example, President Trump's promised $1 trillion in infrastructure spending,” Cameron said.

“We may even see CDOT having trouble plowing our roads in the next blizzard, let alone repairing potholes,” he said.

Cameron said that public hearings are not wort commuters time.

“They're just ‘political theater’... cathartic but irrelevant. Instead, call your state rep and state senator and demand they find new funding sources for the Special Transportation Fund,” he said.

Cameron said “Tolls, taxes and higher fares will be unpopular, especially in an election year. But some combination will be necessary. And the legislature must act as this is a problem of their own creation,”

Planning & Zoning Commission John Sini, who is a commuter, said "Unfortunately, it is the 40.5 million annual New Haven Line rider""s and the countless state highway drivers are the ones that will feel the brunt of the pain derived from decades of misguided transportation and state budget spending priorities."

"However, I believe a fare increase, implementation of tolls, etc. will deliver a much needed dose of reality for those that supported the politicians that have made promises that couldn't be kept to riders and taxpayers alike -- even acting as a catalyst for change in our next state-wide election,"  Sini said.

Additional reporting by Grace Duffield of the New Canaan Advertiser.

Editor@darientimes.com