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Morning Spew

It’s Tuesday and It Should Cost $2.75 to Take the LIRR from Bayside to Woodside

A plan to make the commuter rails actually go our way, and other links to start your day.

9:49 AM EST on December 6, 2022

LIRR conductor (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

We know that post-pandemic ridership is down on the subway. But have you checked out the stats on the commuter rails (Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road) recently? Yikes—not good. Ridership is topping out at 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels on most days, leaving the commuter railroads with a serious problem. As remote work looks to be here to stay (especially for those faced with the prospect of a commute from the suburbs), trains are running half-empty, leaving the MTA with serious budget woes, just as it completes two massive expansion projects for the LIRR and is about to begin one for the Metro-North

But what if we began utilizing our commuter rail lines in a way that encouraged people in New York City to use them, instead of…whatever we’re doing now (making it really expensive to use them)?

That’s what a new report released this morning by the transit-advocacy group TransitCenter is proposing: turning the city’s struggling commuter rails into a whole new second transit system for New Yorkers to speedily get around the city. 

“It’s a matter of basic fairness to let more people onto the transit system, and it’s also a great way to respond to the reality of 2022. We have to reorient rail service to different customers,” TransitCenter’s Steven Higashide, who co-wrote “Renewing the New York Railroads,” told Hell Gate. 

The TransitCenter plan calls for dropping fares on the commuter rails to $2.75 for trips within city limits, which would include transfers between bus and subways. At the same time, the rail lines would run more frequent service along the currently moribund Port Washington branch, opening up speedy and convenient access to other parts of the city for people living in places like Bayside or Douglaston, and the same for the Far Rockaway Branch, cutting down on commutes to the city by as much as 45 minutes. The study estimates that ridership would increase within city stations by 88 to 146 percent. A 2018 study by then-comptroller Scott Stringer found that lowering the fare to $2.75 would only cost the MTA $50 million, while opening up an entire system of new stations to riders.

(TransitCenter)

“How do you make the railroads relevant again to the region? You open them up to more people,” Higashide said. “There’s all these new projects coming like East Side Access and Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track, and these were projects conceived for a world of much more commuting, so there’s even stronger rationale for these changes than even before the pandemic.”

Even before 2020, both the LIRR and Metro-North were looking into ways to get more riders to take shorter trips on their trains. Metro-North is moving forward with the Hell Gate Line, which will take Bronx riders into Penn Station, while the LIRR introduced the Atlantic Ticket, which takes people to Atlantic Station from deep Queens and Brooklyn for $5 one-way. Both systems now also offer a CityTicket, which allows for one-way trips for $5 during off-peak hours. 

And while TransitCenter’s Higashide said that's swell, he believes the time is now to cut intra-city rail fares to $2.75

“It’s a very different landscape now, and we need to find ways to grow transit ridership—and here’s a great example just sitting in front of us,” he said. 

TransitCenter is hoping that Governor Kathy Hochul will act on their recommendations when she lays out her vision for the MTA this coming January. Until then, we’ll keep dreaming of zipping through eastern Queens along a beautiful, underutilized rail line.

Some links to break you from this reverie: 

And finally, we are one step closer to being Bruce Willis in the “Fifth Element”:

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