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LIRR passengers sound off on MTA fare hikes

Commuters in Mineola, Hicksville and Ronkonkoma waiting for trains Thursday were feeling left out in the cold by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fare hike.

The increase, approved by the MTA board in October, raised LIRR fares from 7.6 percent to 9.4 percent and was part of a plan to plug the agency's mammoth $900-million operating deficit. Other hikes were applied to MetroCards, bus fares and bridge and tunnel tolls.

Here's what riders had to say:


Rashid Walker, 41, who lives in Hempstead and commutes five days a week from Mineola to Penn Station, said the fare increases are too much.

"I think it's excessive," said Walker, who works in asset management in Manhattan, "It's much greater than the rate of inflation."

His monthly ticket went up almost $50, he said.

"It's a lot. It's a big number," he said, "especially in light of the perpetual delays."

According to Walker, while fares keep going up, service hasn't improved.

"I don't know what they do with the money, but every year it goes up," he said. "And there's no difference in the service."


Nicole DiNome, 23, of Merrick, said she was aware the increase was coming but didn't expect it to be quite so much.

"It was inevitable," she said, "But I just didn't expect it to have gone up so high."

DiNome, who commutes five days a week into Penn, said she used to pay $230 for a monthly ticket and now will have to pay $254. She said it's not easy to keep absorbing the costs.

"When you realize how much of a toll it takes on your wallet, that's a pretty big percentage," she said, "It's getting too expensive. We might as well just move into the city."

Her 9:26 a.m. train into Manhattan, where she works for Fox television, was delayed Thursday morning. While the going was tough this week, with cancellations and disruptions caused by Sunday's blizzard, she said service overall is pretty good.

"Monday I couldn't get in because they canceled everything," she said. "But it's been all right."


Michael Lorenzo, 35, said the fare hike came at a bad time, with commuters like himself still fuming over blizzard-related service disruptions.

"It's definitely been a tough week," the Mineola resident said. "It's tough to take that on, knowing we're gonna have to pay more money and we're getting worse service."

Lorenzo, who works in advertising in Manhattan and commutes to Penn Station five days a week, said that in the six years he's been riding the rails, his monthly train ticket from Mineola has gone from $185 to $224.

"Now it's more money out of my pocket to get worse service from the Long Island Rail Road," he said.


Unlike many commuters who were upset over the latest increase, Paul Echausse, 49, from Glen Head, took the fare hike in stride, saying he thinks the LIRR is actually pretty reasonable for workaday Long Islanders.

"Commuters get a pretty decent deal at the end of the day," Echausse said. "Everybody would like the fare to be lower, everybody would like the service to be better. But on a relative basis, it's still a pretty cheap way to get around."

Considering what the average commuter has to spend on a daily basis on other living expenses helps to put things in perspective, he said.

"It's what, about $10 a day? $12 or $14 a day, round-trip? We all probably pay more for lunch in the city than what it costs us to commute back and forth."

Echausse, who is a money manager in Manhattan and takes the train daily from Oyster Bay, said that even with the recent patchy service, he's satisfied.

"All the problems that the Long Island Rail Road has and everything else, at the end of the day, it's not a bad deal," he said.

Echausse said he buys both monthly and 10-trip tickets and doesn't mind the ride from Oyster Bay, but he does have one gripe.

"I'd like to have more regular service from Penn Station at night," he said.


Anna Buzzeo, 22, who lives in Manhattan and reverse-commutes from Penn Station to Huntington five days a week, said the fare hike - coming after service disruptions caused by the blizzard - was adding insult to injury.

"It's just ridiculous," said Buzzeo, who works for a nonprofit organization. "There are people who can't afford the train."

"I guess people will start taking the bus," she added. "It's pretty bad."


Maurice Ligonde, 33, a marketing analyst who lives in Hempstead, said he has taken the train five days a week from Mineola to Penn Station for the last five years.

She said she's feeling the full effect of the hike because she buys a monthly ticket for the LIRR - which increased more than $30 - and is spending more for the subway, too.

"I'm getting hit twice," she said.

For her, however, getting a car is out of the question.

"Either way, the MTA is getting me," she said, adding that there is nothing she can do but pay up. "I got to get to work."

The spotty service only makes for a worse situation, she said.

"When there's bad weather, they're not reliable, it's not consistent," Ligonde said. "So it's like, what are we paying the fare hike for?"


Tara Miner, 45, was fuming. She said she's had enough of the LIRR.

"Who knows where that breaking point is where people just say 'I'm not gonna take it anymore,' " she said. "I'm close. I'm definitely close."

Miner, an attorney who lives in Mineola, has been commuting into Penn five days a week for the last decade. She said the service is terrible.

"I hate the railroad," she said.

"I think the Long Island Rail Road stinks," she said. "They're never on time, the trains are dirty, the announcements are terrible."

But, she said, she has no alternative. "The problem is, there are no choices.

"What are you gonna do?" she asked. "I can't drive; that's just an impossibility."

Miner said her commuting experience after the blizzard was very trying, and she was waiting - again - for her train Thursday morning.

"The last two trains have been canceled," she said. "I've been sitting here for an hour already."


In Hicksville, Brad Teich, 44, a construction manager at JP Morgan Chase, was buying his monthly LIRR ticket to Penn for January when he let loose on the MTA.

"It's insane," he said. "It seems like the more problems they have, the more they raise the fares."

Teich said he didn't even look to see how much more his monthly ticket was costing him.

"We don't have a choice, so they can keep raising the price anytime they want, as much as they want, and we can't do anything about it."

Even with the fare increases, Teich said he hasn't seen any improvement in service.

"It just stays the same," he said. "In bad weather there's always delays."


Ritan Shah, 22, of Hicksville, takes the LIRR seven days a week.

He commutes from Hicksville to Penn Station to commute to his classes at New York University, and to Long Beach, where he works in a retail phone store.

Shah said he pays $232 for a monthly ticket. "It used to be like $175, so it's gone up like sixty bucks since 2007," he said.

But like so many other commuters, he doesn't have an alternative.

"I can't do anything about it," he said, adding, "It's better than taking the bus."


Jill Weiss, 56, works for New York City and has been commuting from Hicksville to Jamaica five days a week for the past seven years.

She said the fare increase is outrageous.

"I think it's robbery," she said, "The trains are always late, the service is just terrible.

"It's $195," she said of her monthly ticket to Jamaica. "It's not even a 25-minute ride."

But like so many other commuters, Weiss believes she has no choice but to pay up.

"I'm thinking of moving back to one of the boroughs because I can't afford the railroad," she said.


Tao Lacoude, 58, of Uniondale, commutes from the Mineola station six days a week to get to his job at Meyers Parking in Manhattan. He buys a monthly ticket at the station.

While fares keep going up, he said, he isn't getting paid more.

"You can't do nothing," he said. "You got to deal with it, you need your job."

Lacoude was trying to get on a delayed train Thursday afternoon train to Penn Station, but the train was so full he couldn't squeeze in.

"I'm gonna be late for work," he said. "The train was so crowded that I missed it, I couldn't get on the train."

He said he takes the train from Mineola because he has a heart condition and the escalator at the Freeport station, which is the closest to him, has been broken for weeks.


Coancita Britto, 42, of Mineola, said she feels like she's being nickel-and-dimed and double-slammed by hikes on both the LIRR and the city subway system.

Britto, who teaches Portuguese in Manhattan, buys round-trip or 10-trip tickets and commutes two to three days a week. She also takes the subway, so she's getting hit twice.

As a freelance teacher, she doesn't believe she can raise her rates to cover the increased cost of traveling.

"I don't raise my price, I'm a freelancer," she said, "I cannot do anything, but I have to pay more to get to my students."


Irnande Altema, 25, is a Hofstra University law student who commutes during the week from her home in Uniondale to an internship in Manhattan.

"It's not good. Especially as a student, you're just trying to make ends meet," Altema said.

She said her fare has gone up $2, which is a lot for her.

"It adds up," she said. "When you're not working and you're trying to make sure you have a place in your career."

She said the price of the commute can limit the options students have for part-time positions and internships.

"It kind of dissuades you from going to find a position in the city, just because you can't afford it," she said, "There's no money for these unpaid internships."

She said there isn't much she can do about it, however.

"You would want to come after peak hours" because it's cheaper, she said. "But business hours are definitely nine to five."


Siv Araman, 68, is a consultant from Port Jefferson and takes the train into Penn Station several times a month. On Thursday, he was waiting at Mineola for a connection to Port Jefferson that was running 35 minutes late.

He said he's been all over the country and hasn't seen a railroad so poorly run.

"It's pathetic," Araman said. "This is the worst train service we have in the United States. . . . They have to improve the system," he said.

Araman said that something must be wrong in the management of the MTA.

"There is what, a $900-million budget shortfall this year?" he asked. "Why should that be? You and I have to manage our bank accounts properly. Why should these guys get away with murder?"


Carol Celestine, 24, of Hempstead, was a bit surprised by the fare increase when she purchased her round-trip ticket to Manhattan Thursday. She said she takes the train to Penn a few times a week.

"They just hiked up the fare about a year ago and now they're hiking it up again," she said. "It just seems like MTA mismanagement to me and we're paying for it."

Celestine said she doesn't believe much improvement has taken place for all the hikes, which she said takes its toll. "I feel like service has remained the same. I just hate paying more."

And she just knows the MTA isn't through with its price bumps.

"I don't trust the MTA, they're gonna hike it again," she said.

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