LIRR riders hoping to pay before rates rise stymied

Long Island Rail Road conductor Joy Harris punches Long Island Rail Road conductor Joy Harris punches tickets on the 3:55 p.m. train from Penn station to Ronkonkoma. (Feb. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Cost-conscious Long Island Rail Road riders trying to buy tickets online before fares go up came away from their computers with nothing but frustration.

The LIRR's WebTicket system, which allows riders to buy tickets to be mailed to them, has been down since Feb. 10, and will remain inoperable until Saturday while the agency changes fares to reflect the increase.

The new fare hike, which increases ticket prices at rates ranging from 7.1 percent to 15.3 percent, depending on the trip and ticket type, takes full effect Sunday, although monthly ticket users will start paying new rates Friday.

George Deller of Old Bethpage said he went on the WebTicket site Thursday to buy a 10-Trip Ticket between Hicksville and Penn Station at the current rate of $70.25. On Sunday, that ticket will go up by $6.25.

He found a message telling customers that "sales will not be available from February 10th through March 2nd as we transition to the new fares. Customers are advised to purchase their tickets at LIRR Ticket Windows or Ticket Machines. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"I'm very skeptical that it would take nearly three weeks to get this done," Deller said.

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LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said the company that services the WebTicket site requires "a minimum of six weeks" to make changes associated with a fare hike.

"That process made it impossible to continue to sell tickets on the Web until the changeover is complete," Arena said.

WebTicket sales accounted for less than 1 percent of tickets sold in January.

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Deller said that if the LIRR needed to take down the site for an extended period, it should have done so after the new fares took effect.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said the out-of-commission website unnecessarily inconvenienced riders.

"I don't think it's intentional, but when they do something like this, people are going to feel that way," he said.

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