MTA won't waive $10 refund fee for Sandy-stranded LIRR riders

A sign posted in the Ronkonkoma LIRR station

A sign posted in the Ronkonkoma LIRR station announcing service will be suspended as due to Hurricane Sandy. (Oct. 28, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is refusing to waive its unpopular $10 penalty for Long Island Rail Road ticket refunds for travelers affected by superstorm Sandy -- even those who couldn't use their tickets because there were no trains to take.

The MTA is also not issuing any refunds for time-limit-based fare passes, including LIRR monthly tickets and seven-day or 30-day MetroCards.

"The MTA will not be issuing refunds for monthly or weekly tickets relating to Hurricane Sandy," MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said. "The process for refunding unused commuter railroad tickets is unchanged."

The policy is "shameful," according to Dee Daloisio, of Huntington, who bought a round-trip LIRR ticket from Huntington to Jamaica on Oct. 22 for $14.50. Daloisio, a rehabilitation therapist, flew out of Kennedy Airport to Pittsburgh for a weeklong medical convention.

When Daloisio returned to New York the night of Oct. 28, she learned the LIRR had suspended all services hours earlier, so she was unable to use the return ticket home. When she wrote the LIRR seeking a refund, she was told that, minus the $10 processing fee, her ticket had no value.

"The whole reason the ticket couldn't be used was because the whole system was down," Daloisio said. "I think it's disgraceful that they have to reach new lows to generate revenue."

The LIRR implemented the $10 fee in January 2011 as part of a plan to increase fare revenue by 7.5 percent. The policy has been blasted by riders and elected officials as burdensome and unfair. The State Senate in May passed a bill to repeal the fee, but it was not voted on by the Assembly.

"Frankly, it doesn't make sense to me," said the bill's co-sponsor state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who added that state agencies have already extended deadlines for school tax payments and court appeals in recognition of Sandy being "a significant, traumatic event."

"The fact that the MTA hasn't followed suit is disappointing," Martins said.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said that while he is aware that waiving the fee for riders affected by Sandy could prove complicated and expensive for the MTA, "What's right is right."

"If you can't get a train because they're not running, then they shouldn't charge the penalty," Epstein said. "If you did not provide the service, somebody should be refunded. Whether it's your fault or not is not the question."

There are precedents for both waivers of the LIRR refund fee and extensions of MetroCard validity periods.

When a lightning strike disabled the LIRR's signal system at Jamaica Station on Sept. 29, the agency waived the $10 refund penalty, and even sent $10 checks to customers who were wrongly charged the fee.

And following a three-day strike by New York City Transit employees in 2005, the MTA extended the validity of MetroCards by three days.

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