MTA fare hike begins; LIRR boosts service

A Long Island Rail Road rider purchases a A Long Island Rail Road rider purchases a ticket from a machine at the LIRRs Jamaica Station. (Feb. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Changes to the MTA's fares aren't all bad news for riders, who will see new discounts for military personnel, additional breaks for families, and easier ways to pay tolls.

The LIRR is also restoring several trains it cut in 2010 and adding new service on some lines beginning Monday.

The new rates, which take effect Sunday, aim to increase the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's fare revenue by 7 percent, and generate an additional $500 million annually.

On the Long Island Rail Road, which saw fares increase for monthly ticket holders Friday, fares will climb from 7.1 percent to 15.3 percent, depending on the trip and ticket type.

But along with the steeper prices, the MTA is adding new incentives for some riders -- including a few who will actually see their traveling costs decrease.

Beginning Monday, all active military personnel who show an Active Duty Identification Card will be charged off-peak fares at all times.

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In addition, the LIRR's Family Fare program, which offers discounted tickets for children traveling with adults, will be expanded to evening peak hours.

LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said the military discount was already in place in other MTA agencies, and that the new FamilyFare policy "just made sense in so many ways."

Arena said that families often travel into Manhattan during off-peak hours, but return during peak hours only to find there was an added charge.

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"Customers would get confused and annoyed and train crews would have to spend extra time assessing the additional charge on board," Arena said. "It slowed down fare collections especially during crowded holiday and school vacation periods."

The MTA will also offer 5 percent bonuses for MetroCard purchases as low as $5. The bonus amount was previously 7 percent, but required a MetroCard purchase of at least $10.

The MTA is also trying to give drivers an extra bang for their toll-paying buck, or at least some flexibility. It now offers E-ZPass Pay Per Trip, which deducts money directly from a bank account whenever a toll is crossed. Previously, a prepaid, minimum balance was required.

Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, said the MTA has a long tradition of trying to "soften the blow" whenever it raises fares.

He said in the past those kind of sweeteners have led to the introduction of free bus and subway transfers and expanded discounts for seniors.

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But, with the MTA planning to raise fares every other year, he said the agency may eventually "run out of tricks."

"I'm happy with the new fare incentives, but we think two-year automatic fare hikes is not good policy," said Russianoff. "I think, for riders, their good will is only going to last until the next train delay."

The fare increases also coincide with the restoration and addition of several LIRR trains.

Beginning Monday, the LIRR will offer half-hourly, off-peak westbound service on its Ronkonkoma line -- doubling the frequency of the current hourly service.

The LIRR is also bringing back some trains eliminated in the MTA's 2010 service cuts. They include late-night trains to and from Brooklyn and peak trains on the Long Beach, Montauk and Port Jefferson lines.

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And, at the request of West Hempstead branch customers, the LIRR will return to the morning schedule that was in place on that line in 2010.

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