Metro-North commuters who have yet to master the ticket vending machines at Darien station have but a few days to hone their skills. When the clock strikes 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 12, the station's ticket window will close for good.
Budgetary woes have left Metro North and the Department of Transportation hard-pressed to find ways to keep costs down without compromising service. Hence the decision to pull the plug on manpower and transition to machine-only ticket sales.
"We're in a vice-grip financially, and we're always looking to keep ticket sales down," said Metro-North Railroad spokeswoman Margie Anders.
It's a change that Anders compared to the shift from bank tellers to ATMs, and one that should come as no surprise. The vending machines were installed ten years ago, with the prospect of cutting ticket agents in mind, said Anders. Moreover, the first wave of man-to-machine sales has already taken place; in the past five years, eight New York stations have closed their windows.
January will see a second wave of ticket agents wave goodbye. Darien is one of seven Metro North ticket windows slated for closure. Others include Harrison, Hartsdale, Larchmont, Fleetwood, Chappaqua and Ossining.
The seven stations were chosen on a strictly "number basis," said Anders; those stations whose agents sold the least number of tickets at the window are due to close. Darien sold 14,821 tickets during the month of November, 83 percent of which were vending-machine sales; only 2,521 were purchased from the teller.
New Canaan is one of the few stations on the New Haven Line still operating its teller window. Chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council Jim Cameron said it's just a matter of time before ticket agents in general, are a thing of the past.
"They're working their way down the list," Cameron said. "With the exception of a few—Stamford, New Haven, Bridgeport—there will be very few ticket windows left."
In addition to the New Haven Line closures, three part-time Metro-North positions, three ticket seller positions at Grand Central Station and one at New Haven Station will get the axe. The cuts are anticipated to save $1.1 million per year, and the money will be split between Connecticut and New York.
"It's not about killing jobs; it's just about saving money," said Anders, who explained that tellers will simply fill other Metro-North vacancies.
Officials do not anticipate any problems with the switch. Anders said that the vending machines are easy to use and are becoming increasingly popular, even among the perhaps lesser techno-savvy seniors.
It's the elder crowd of commuters who have expressed concern, said Anders, but both she said they need not worry. The machines are easy to master, and with the exception of early morning peak trains, seniors can purchase their reduced fare tickets on board without penalty.
In addition to purchasing tickets on the platform, travelers can buy advance tickets online and save an additional five percent. Cameron encourages riders to 10-peak ticket packs, as buying in bulk is further economical.
As for the window booth itself, officials say that they are still considering alternative uses. Cameron said that to judge by the existing concession at Darien station, "commuters don't want pastries," but that a dry cleaning drop-off or other boutique may prove profitable.
"It's a nice piece of real estate, and it will be used for something," Cameron said.
There will be no band or fanfare to mark the change of times on Jan. 12, though Anders acknowledged its local poignancy.
"It will be a said day for regulars," she said.
The reason for closing down on Tuesday, Jan 12 is simply a pay-roll decision.
Additional information about New Haven Line station operations is also available at www.mta.info.