A push for ‘fair’ train fares

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line pulls into the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line pulls into the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line pulls into the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line passes under Main Street in Greenfield as it pulls into the station Friday at the John W. Olver Transit Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line passes under Main Street in Greenfield as it pulls into the station Friday afternoon at the John W. Olver Transit Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Amtrak Vermonter line pulls away from the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2019 11:14:50 PM

Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais are two of 10 legislators throughout the region who are asking that the state negotiate with Amtrak for more “equitable” and “scaled down” fares to support, rather than discourage, ridership from Greenfield and other stations in western Massachusetts.

The legislators — all representing Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester counties — wrote to the state Department of Transportation recently, asking that it work with regional leaders in the Pioneer Valley to advocate for and negotiate with Amtrak to ensure that so-called Knowledge Corridor passenger rail fares are fair.

“We are thankful for the hard work by MassDOT and the investment of the commonwealth over the past decade to secure federal funding and other resources to implement the revamped Vermonters service along the Knowledge Corridor, now serving Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield,” legislators wrote.

And they said they “are extremely excited about the launch of expanded Amtrak rail service slated to start this summer.”

Comerford and others wrote that they want to position the region for success that will lead to sustained rail travel options in the Pioneer Valley. Comerford was unavailable for comment on Friday.

Legislators said the challenges and goals are to help the transportation system move more people in fewer vehicles, and help de-carbonize the transportation system by encouraging people to take mass transit when they travel, rather than their own vehicles.

They wrote that increasing rail travel will also enable “gateway cities” like Greenfield — the gateway to intercity rail for Franklin County and other rural areas of western Massachusetts — to compete for residents and jobs by strengthening passenger rail and providing better mobility options in rural communities.

But they wrote they are “quite concerned” about current fares for the Vermonter, and are equally concerned that MassDOT is planning to recommend the same pricing for the pilot rail service expansion for the Knowledge Corridor shuttle extended north from Springfield.

Legislators said their concerns are based on data and analytical findings that show current Vermonter fares to New York City are high and likely to hinder future ridership growth.

They said riders pay $50 (one-way) to go from Greenfield, Northampton or Holyoke, as well as Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City, even though there is disparity in terms of miles traveled. For instance, there is a 50-mile difference in stations located in Brattleboro and Holyoke, while there is an 18-mile difference between Brattleboro and Greenfield, but riders all pay the same fare.

Legislators wrote that the fare is only $3 more ($53) from White River Junction, meaning the fare is essentially the same for two cities (White River Junction and Greenfield) that are located 80 miles apart. But, from White River Junction to Hartford, Conn., it costs $33, while it costs $18 to travel from Greenfield to Hartford. Legislators said that is more of a logical progression based on distance.

They also said Vermonter fares are high compared to other Amtrak services on a cost-per-mile basis. For instance, fares are almost 50 percent higher from Northampton to New York City than they are from Portland, Maine, to Boston on the Downeaster or Providence, R.I., to New York City, and those services offer more trains per day, providing passengers with more choices.

“We think, first and foremost, that the current Amtrak pricing for our region needs to be reconsidered and adjustment should be negotiated with Amtrak for more equitable and logical distance-based fares,” legislators wrote.

Legislators said they want to see “scaled-down” fares. They said other states, like Connecticut, are making conscious policy decisions to subsidize fares to boost ridership, while they feel Massachusetts is making conscious policy decisions to do the opposite.

“We strongly disagree with this policy decision and want to work with MassDOT to determine a reasonable and equitable fare policy that will encourage, rather than discourage, rail ridership,” legislators wrote.

Amtrak could not be reached for comment on Friday.




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