More people rode trains on the Long Island Rail Road's Babylon line each day last year than on any other branch, according to the annual ridership report that details how the agency increased its customer base for the first time in four years.
The Babylon line, which LIRR president Helena Williams Monday called the agency's "bread and butter," averaged 64,000 riders a day last year, according to the LIRR's 2012 Annual Ridership Report. The 17.4 million annual ridership on the Babylon line represents a 1.4 percent increase over 2011.
The Port Jefferson line carried more passengers overall -- 17.8 million last year -- but the figure includes ridership on the Huntington line. The West Hempstead branch carried the fewest riders of any line at 2,920 a day.
The report blames superstorm Sandy for stymieing a systemwide growth rate of 4.3 percent through September, costing the LIRR 2.4 million riders. Nonetheless, the railroad ended the year with 0.9 percent more riders than in 2011, records show.
LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said the agency could have added even more riders by increasing off-peak service on some lines and providing new incentives, such as discounted fan fares for customers going to Mets, Nets, Knicks or Rangers games.
"If you don't make service flexible for people, then you're not going to make the most for your money," Epstein said. "That's what they should be focusing on, not just hoping that there's not another Sandy. They need to be proactive."
LIRR customer service vice president Joseph Calderone said the railroad is proactive in reaching out to new riders, and pointed to $2 million in revenue from special promotions in 2012. In total, the LIRR collected $581.4 million in fares last year, up 1.7 percent from 2011.
The report attributes much of the gains to non-commuting riders traveling during off-peak hours and on weekends.
On the Port Washington line, the restoration of half-hourly midday service, which was reduced to hourly in 2010 as part of budget-related service cuts, led to a 15.4 percent increase in off-peak ridership on the line. The report said that similarly restoring half-hourly Port Washington service on weekends "can provide additional opportunities for ridership growth."
"We are very focused on trying to grow those areas of the ridership that I think are susceptible to more riders, if we offer better and more connecting service," Williams said at a Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's railroad committee.
While off-peak and weekend use was up 2.6 percent, commuter use going to and from Manhattan and Brooklyn fell by 0.4 percent. The report noted that LIRR's ridership lags behind employment trends in New York City and Long Island.
Williams said another reason for the positive ridership trend is that the LIRR is more reliable than ever. "That, of course, encourages customers to use the railroad," she said.