A group of Republican lawmakers — in an election year, natch — is calling for reversal of a planned rate hike next year for long-suffering commuters until the Long Island Rail Road gets its act together.
Instead of an increase, the state lawmakers pushed for creation of a special fund from which the LIRR could draw revenue, but only after meeting a set of performance goals.
The idea makes for good politics, given that commuters pay a pretty penny for service that, as of August, was keeping the railroad well on track — pun intended — toward racking up its worst year of on-time performance since 1999.
A recent Newsday report on the railroad’s ills called 2018 a hellish summer for commuters.
That’s interesting, because the “Summer of Hell” was supposed to have been last year.
Instead, LIRR commuters in 2017 experienced better overall service than the railroad and even many elected officials had predicted.
So, why not consider kicking it old school enough to make this a Fall of Hell — by getting back to what worked last summer?
Advance planning by the railroad helped last year.
So did concentration on good, and timely, communication with riders.
Above all, customers became king and queen.
In response to the latest dismal on-time performance numbers and other service indicators, LIRR officials point to ongoing system improvements as proof that the railroad is working harder.
The LIRR’s plans include a few station renovations and more parking at some stations. In addition, the LIRR this month completed work on a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma and restored to the schedule more than a dozen trains that had been canceled, diverted or were making fewer stops due to construction projects.
But the best of plans mean little if commuters, who rely on the LIRR to get to work on time, are too often late, stuck on overcrowded trains or otherwise consistently inconvenienced.
The lawmakers are on to something in insisting that commuters get what they pay for.
But the planned special fund feels more like a bonus pool for employee performance than the solution commuters crave.
As for the railroad’s promise of a better tomorrow, it’s nice — but why should customers bear high costs now for better service at some time to be determined?
If the railroad performed wildly better than anticipated during construction at Pennsylvania Station in summer 2017, why can’t the LIRR pull that off again?
If not, there’ll be no detour from 2018’s being the worst year for LIRR performance in two decades.