The first selectman and I are very concerned about the precipitous decline in service quality by Metro-North, especially along the New Canaan branch, and we are working diligently on several fronts to address the issues. As a 20-year commuter myself, I experience these issues first-hand every day. Yet fixing Metro-North is not just for the benefit of New Canaan commuters, but for our entire community.
We recently sent a representative to a hearing where several officials from Metro-North and Connecticut were present, including James Redeker, the state's commissioner of transportation. Of the many comments from the floor, there were a few in particular that should cause everyone to take note:
Stamford Mayor David Martin noted that there are now more workers commuting into than out of his city on Metro-North. Particularly troubling, he recently had conversations with two large employers, one in Stamford now and another considering moving there. Both expressed major concerns with Metro-North that may impact their decisions on staying in, or moving to, Stamford. He said those decisions would have a material impact on local employment.
An audience member recounted a recent dinner with the CEO of UBS in which the CEO mentioned that Metro-North's ongoing problems were a major factor in moving most of UBS' investment banking personnel back to Manhattan.
Another member of the audience brought up the impact of social media on Metro-North, noting that the various delays and other problems are reported on the Internet immediately. Facebook and Twitter are helping to precipitate a widespread free fall in Metro-North's reputation, and, by implication, on Metro-North as a reliable means of commuting.
Two prospective home buyers discussed the impact of the longer commutes, frequent delays and equipment breakdowns on their decisions and those of their friends and colleagues still in Manhattan. The apparent message: Stay away from Connecticut, where the problems on the New Haven line seems to be the worst.
The implications for New Canaan are clear. As a community we must continue to put unrelenting pressure on Governor Malloy and our legislature to confront the major issues: the "temporary" lengthened commute times that now seem to be permanent; the wholly unreliable service; the ongoing safety problems; and the antiquated malfunctioning equipment from a bygone era.
If these issues are not addressed adequately -- and soon -- I have little doubt that many families with parents working in New York City will seek to live elsewhere and our commuter base will start to erode. Furthermore, if large employers move operations out of Stamford, then local employment opportunities for non-commuters will become more challenging. The major risk is a material reduction in New Canaan property values and a decline in our local businesses as people with choices move elsewhere and take their disposable incomes with them. Needless to say, this result would be catastrophic for our town.
Nick Williams is a member of the New Canaan Board of Selectmen.