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Lawmakers: LIRR should not hike fares until service improves

A group of legislators proposes a "commuter fund" instead that the railroad could draw from if it meets specific performance goals. The MTA says it is investing record amounts in the LIRR to improve service.

Republican lawmakers gathered at the Long Island Rail Road's Bethpage station Monday to discuss a bill that would stop a fare increase until railroad service improves. (Credit: Newsday / Alfonso Castillo)

Republican elected officials are calling on the MTA to hold off on a planned fare increase next year for the LIRR until railroad service improves.

At a news conference at the Long Island Rail Road’s Bethpage station, a group of GOP state lawmakers called for a stop to the planned 4 percent increase next year and proposed instead the creation of a "commuter fund" that the railroad could draw upon — but only if it achieved specific performance goals.

The proposal comes as commuters have endured a litany of delays, cancellations and other challenges that have contributed to the LIRR being on pace to having its worst annual on-time performance in 19 years.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently confirmed plans to increase fares and tolls by 4 percent early next year — the seventh fare increase since 2008.

"In no other business would you continue to have to pay more as quality and service declines," said Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill), who authored the Senate version of the proposed bill. “The Long Island Rail Road must be held accountable for poor service. And that’s what this legislation does.”

Under the proposal, the state would take $60 million from litigation settlements with banks and use it to create a fund that the LIRR could access if it achieved its on-time performance goal of 94 percent. Through July, 90.4 percent of LIRR trains were on time, statistics show.

The bill would also require that the LIRR see a 5 percent increase in its annual customer service satisfaction rating to tap the fund. When the LIRR last released its customer satisfaction rating results in March, it scored 77 percent — its lowest grade since the railroad began using a percentage scoring system in 2009.

In a statement, MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said the agency is investing $6 billion to “completely modernize the Long Island Rail Road for riders,” including through the construction of a second track on the LIRR’s Main Line in Suffolk and a third track in Nassau.

“The MTA Board makes the final determination on fare policy, but to be clear, we are in a period of the greatest investment in the railroad and the Long Island economy that the MTA has ever made,” Weinstein said.

MTA officials have said they need the money generated from regular fare increases to remain financially stable and avoid future budget deficits. But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said that even without the fare increase or another funding source the MTA has “enough money right now” to reverse the LIRR’s failing service.

“I don’t think it’s underfunding. I think it’s where you put the resources,” Flanagan said. “We’re telling them, do not approve a fare hike under any circumstances."

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) called the Republican proposal, which he noted comes seven weeks before Election Day, “incredibly cynical and rich.”

“During the Senate GOP’s reign in Albany, they have barely lifted a finger to help LIRR riders,” Kaminsky said. “Fixing the LIRR will take a lot more than politics as usual.”

Fare increases over the years

2008: 4 percent

2009: 10 percent

2011: 7.5 percent

2013: 7 percent

2015: 4 percent

2017: 4 percent

Planned increases:

2019: 4 percent

2021: 4 percent

LIRR monthly ticket fares over the years

Zone 4

(includes Mineola, Valley Stream, Great Neck)

2007: $178

2017: $261

Zone 7

(includes Long Beach, Massapequa, Hicksville)

2007: $203

2017: $297

Zone 9

(includes Babylon, Deer Park, Huntington)

2007: $239

2017: $350

Zone 10

(includes Islip, Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson)

2007: $267

2017: $391

Zone 12

(includes Bellport, Speonk and Yaphank)

2007: $315

2017: $461

Zone 14

(includes Greenport, Southampton and Montauk)

2007: $342

2017: $500

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