The commuter nightmare that gripped Metro-North riders for almost two weeks earlier this fall remains fresh in their minds… and wallets.
The Troubleshooters found out that some ticket holders got whacked with an extra fee for apparently doing the right thing.
The Metro-North New Haven line is back on track. But not all the dust has settled after a paralyzing, near shutdown for two weeks in late September and early October due to an electrical outage.
“It affected me so much because I didn’t have a way to like, get to school,” said Cynthia Charles of Bridgeport.
The state got on board with Metro-North riders, securing monthly ticket holders a credit on their next pass.
But commuters like Matt DeLong of Thomaston said that at the same time, the state hit him with a cheap shot: a 10-dollar late fee for his monthly pass at Harbor Yard parking in Bridgeport.
DeLong explains that he and hundreds of others use the state-owned garages at the Bridgeport and Stamford train stations, and the late monthly payment was due during the train stoppage.
“Parking at the Harbor Yard garage is due by the fifth of the month," said DeLong, "and I hadn’t been going down and I dropped my check off. I got hit with a 10-dollar penalty for not paying my parking on time.”
DeLong said he honored the state’s request to ease highway congestion during the train stoppage by working from home. He said it didn't make sense to drive from Thomaston to Bridgeport just to make a parking payment.
So why didn't DeLong mail the payment or put it on a credit card? He said the garage only has a payment box that accepts checks and money order, but not cash, credit, or debit card payments.
The Troubleshooters investigated and learned that there is no sign indicating any other way to pay the monthly parking fee.
A parking attendant gave us an address where customers can mail in their payments. However, this address was not on any of the paperwork the garage gives to new parking permit holders. We called the operators of the Bridgeport and Stamford garage, Fusco Management Company, and our calls were not returned.
The state, which owns these garages, did respond.
“Clearly we’ve upset a few of our customers," said Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick. "And there is logic behind them being upset.”
Nursick acknowledged that the parking garages have no visible instructions as to how to pay other than in person, but added that he believes the initial parking contract does contain a mailing address for send payments, though he did not have that paperwork on hand.
“It really probably would have flown under the radar screen," Nursick said. "Didn’t think about it that much.”
Nursick pointed out the number of people paying late fees at the Bridgeport and Stamford garages didn't fluctuate much during the train stoppage.
Still, the DOT said DeLong had a point. The agency plans to deduct the late fee from next month’s parking payment for more than 100 customers.
“Most of the time, people are paying in person, at the Bridgeport and Stamford facility, and they pay every month on the first of the month," Nursick said. "And again they got that five-day window. That five-day window in this particular case was when Metro-North was effectively shut down for the most part and we were telling people not to go to these places. So on one hand, if we’re telling you not to go there, to avoid the hassle, we shouldn’t be expecting folks to pay a 10-dollar late fee. So simple decision on our part, we don’t want to add to the headaches that people had to endure with that outage, so we’ll simply waive the fee.”
Going forward, the DOT said it will explore ways to make it easier for commuters who use its garages to pay by mail and possibly by credit card, although credit card companies will likely charge the state a fee if the DOT pursues this option.