TALKING TRANSPORTATION: Vehicle Miles Tax Trial is Under Way in CT

By Jim Cameron

Even though it’s summer, there’s plenty of news to share on the transportation front:

PASSENGER PLEDGE: Following on last week’s column about the “Great Summer Meltdown” on Metro-North on the hottest day of July 2011, one of the good things that resulted was the CT Rail Commuter Council’s endorsement of what we then called “The Passenger Bill of Rights”.

Our requests of the railroad seemed reasonable: heat in the winter and AC in the summer, updated info when there are delays, back-up transportation when trains get canceled and in all conditions, courteous employees. We even were cheeky enough to say passengers deserved a seat, an idea rejected by the railroad.

We asked Metro-North to codify these “rights” but they only partially agreed. But good luck finding any mention of the railroad’s “Passenger Pledge” 12 years later. A search of their website turns up nothing though they say it’s still in effect.

CONGESTION PRICING: The Feds have given NYC the final clearance to move forward with their congestion pricing plan to limit vehicular traffic in midtown Manhattan. Final details are yet to be announced, but the plan would call for tolls of up to $23 for all vehicles driving south of 60th St with the billions raised helping fund mass transit. The plan may go into effect as early as next spring.

MORE ACELA DELAYS: The next generation of Amtrak’s Acela trainsets, dubbed “Avelia” were supposed to enter service on the Northeast Corridor last year. While the new, longer trainsets tested just fine at better than 150 mph on the Feds’ test track in Colorado, but they’re not faring as well in real-world tests on our old tracks and overhead catenary wires between Washington & Boston. At highest speeds the pantographs lose contact with the wire, so further testing will be needed.

Meantime the original Acelas, now more than 20 years old, are not holding up. Four of the 20 trainsets have been pulled from service, cutting two roundtrips between NYC and DC.

NEW CANAAN BRANCH WORK: Work continues on rebuilding the New Canaan branch running north from Stamford, now closed until September. So far commuters haven’t been too inconvenienced as New Canaan officials say most are just driving the few miles south and grabbing trains out of Darien where there seems to be adequate parking in the station lots. Metro-North is still running bus shuttles connecting all branch line stations, but ridership is low.

VEHICLE MILES TAX TRIAL: The VMT trial I wrote about a couple of weeks ago is now up and running here in CT, fully subscribed with over 200 volunteers testing the idea. Full disclosure: I’m one of those who signed up and so far the test has run seamlessly while providing me with great metrics on how many miles I’ve driven, how much CT gasoline tax I’ve paid and what the pricing might have been under a Vehicle Miles Tax. Turns out my hybrid Toyota Prius would pay less under a VMT plan than pay a gas tax. The trial runs through October.

JIM CAMERON has lived in Darien for over 25 years. He serves on the Darien RTM and is Program Director of Darien TV79. He served 19 years on the CT Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, four as its Chairman. In 2014 he founded a new advocacy group, The Commuter Action Group which speaks on behalf of Metro-North riders. His newspaper column “Talking Transportation” archives can be found at