On your way to work each morning, if you’ve noticed that the ticket staff at your train station is absent, then, that’s neither a slip nor is it a temporary departure from routine.
Shutters are coming down on staff-operated ticket offices at a number of stations served by the Metro-North line.
Ticket booths have been permanently closed in 33 of the 120 stations. While the ones in Mount Kisco, Dobbs Ferry, Mamaroneck, and Peekskill were wound up on October 9, Hastings shut a few weeks earlier, on September 18, said Daniel Brucker, spokesman for Metro-North Railroad.
Giving reasons for the closure, he said, “One, people prefer to use the ticket machines because they’re more convenient, efficient, and faster, and two, not all stations are busy enough” to justify the position of a ticket agent.
As of 2003, all stations—with a very few exceptions on the Connecticut branch lines—had ticket vending machines.
“The popularity of these machines is such that sales at ticket windows have plummeted,” said Marjorie Anders of Metro-North, in an e-mail response.
Of the total of 18,000 tickets sold at the Mount Kisco station, only 22 percent—4,000—were bought by commuters from a station agent. The rest were purchased at self-service vending machines.
Statistics from Mamaroneck tell the same tale as well.
Only 10 percent of the travelers—2,000 out of 20,000—got their tickets at the booth. The two ticket machines at Pleasantville station, together, sell about 12,500 tickets a month.
“We’ve noticed that even when the ticket offices are open, people aren’t using them,” said Brucker.
At these five stations, the windows were typically open only one shift a day, five days week, from 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
“This served the old travel pattern when 90 percent of all trips were morning commute to Manhattan. Now, more than half of all trips are non-commutes—that is, at off-peak hours, nights, weekends, intermediate [station pairings that do not include Grand Central] and reverse commute [outbound from the city during the morning rush-hour],” wrote Anders.
With an overwhelming majority of people traveling this way, the market is better served with self-service machines rather than by people.
But is this a cost-saving measure?
“There’s no savings achieved by closing these ticket windows. The employee positions aren’t being eliminated. The jobs will be shifted to the maintenance of Ticket Vending Machines.”
“However, when a station building is net-leased, as is the case of Hastings and eight other stations, the estimated average annual savings in utilities and maintenance is about $33,000 each. The actual savings varies by building size and design,” stated Anders.
On another front, chances are that most train trips by Metro-North will cost about 6.5 percent more, next year, if the fare hike proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is approved at the end of this year.