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Bronxites Are Excluded from Metro-North Trains, As Congestion Pricing Looms

Byline: Matthew R. Lee of Inner City Press in the Bronx: News Analysis

BRONX, N.Y., March 30 -- As New York government officials consider imposing a tax for driving into lower Manhattan, many of the Metro-North Railroad trains which stop to let off suburban riders in the Bronx refuse to take Bronx passengers on board for the last leg of the trip into Grand Central Station. When these trains stop at the Fordham Road station in the Bronx, the public address system announces that they are "discharge only" and that anyone who insists on getting on will be charged the highest possible fare.  Among those excluded or over-charged are Bronxites who have paid over $140 for a monthly pass from Fordham to Grand Central.

            This longstanding policy was questioned on March 26 at a public hearing of the Metro-North Railroad president Peter Cannito. Along with questions about allowing more bicycles on the MNRR trains and better policing late-night drunken riders, Inner City Press asked Mr. Cannito to explain why the company he runs, at least until later this year, denies its services to pre-paid customers in the Bronx. While several of the other MNRR board members present seem surprised that this takes place, Cannito said it is a product of an operating agreement between the states of Connecticut and New York. He said that since Connecticut pays 65% of the New Haven line's costs, they have requested that no passengers be allowed on the New Haven lines trains which stop to discharge passengers in the Bronx.

            When Inner City Press questioned the social, racial and environmental justice logic of keeping paying customers from The Bronx from riding the suburban commuter trains even when they have paid, Cannito said, even if "you don't accept it," he had explained it. Another board member interjected that what Inner City Press had raised showed the "regionality of service" which is "something we are keenly aware of and working toward."

            Further inquiry by Inner City Press has revealed as an explanation of the exclusion of Bronxites that the Connecticut and New York lines of the Metro-North system don't have in place a system to invoice each other for riders like Bronxites riding New Haven line trains south into Manhattan. The bureaucratic fix appears simple, unless an implicit selling-point of the New Haven line is the exclusion of more "urban" riders.  While some intrepid  Bronxites have  found a way around the MNRR's policy of exclusion -- by buying a holding a ticket from Westchester to Grand Central, as if they had gotten on further north -- these games are not accessible to everyone, cost more and should not be necessary, particularly with congestion pricing looming.

Metro-North train with empty seats, Bronxites not shown

            Cannito offered a single, illusory concession. He said that MNRR is considering whether having a middle platform at the Fordham station would allow additional express trains from White Plains to stop at Fordham. But a cursory visit to the station shows that there is no room for a middle platform, and little chance of expanding the station outward, either into Fordham University where a dorm is being constructed, or out onto Webster Avenue.

            Also at the hearing, a bicycle enthusiast derided late night drunken riders who, he said, often vomit in the cars. Just as a designated quiet car had been proposed, he suggested what he called a "designated pukers car."

            The evening's final witness said she had observed phone sex and, to be diplomatic, onanism on a recent late night ride. (She specified that the caller sprawled out across three seats and while touching his groin with one hand, cell phone in the other.) She said that "as a woman of color," it made her feel unsafe. One wag in the back of the MTA meeting room muttered, "And everyone else likes it?" What Metro-North will do about any of these issues remains to be seen.

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