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MTA ‘Freedom Ticket’ proposed for residents far from subways

Commuters at Jamaica Station in Queens on Sept.

Commuters at Jamaica Station in Queens on Sept. 2, 2015. Some borough residents travel more than an hour to work each day by bus or subway because of the LIRR's prohibitively expensive fares. Credit: Commuters at Jamaica Station in Queens on Sept. 2, 2015. Some borough residents travel more than an hour to work each day by bus or subway because of the LIRR’s prohibitively expensive fares.

The MTA’s official watchdog group is pushing for the creation of a special fare that would allow some New York City residents access to transfer among buses, subways and the Long Island Rail Road for a single, discounted price. The New York City Transit Riders Council Wednesday released a report on the proposed “Freedom Ticket,” which aims to provide more transportation options for New York City residents not living near subway lines.

The council would like to see the ticket eventually rolled out systemwide — allowing city residents the option to transfer to and from buses, subways, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. But, for now, the group is proposing that the MTA test out the ticket in southeast Queens, where bus and subway riders have some of the longest commutes to and from Manhattan of any residents in the city.

According to the report, the trip from Rosedale to Penn Station by bus and subway takes 86 minutes — more than twice as long as the same trip by the LIRR. However, the trip costs just $2.75 by bus and subway, compared with a $10 one-way peak railroad ticket.

“Some of the Far Rock trains and trains out of Long Beach are running half-full or a third-full in some cases. And there are people [in Queens] who can get on, but they can’t make it economically work. It’s just not a good match,” said William Henderson, executive director of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the Transit Riders Council. “We want to see if we can find a way to make that match work.”

Under the group’s proposal, the Freedom Ticket would cost southeast Queens commuters $6.50 — 49 percent less than the combined cost of a subway/bus ride and a trip on the LIRR. Monthly commuters would pay $215 a month — a discount of about 36 percent as compared with an unlimited MetroCard and an LIRR monthly pass.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg called it “an interesting proposal,” but noted that it would carry a financial impact for the MTA, which is scheduled to raise fares by 4 percent in 2017. The Riders Council has proposed that New York City fund the bulk of the plan’s cost.

“We’ll consider it next year as we determine how to structure the next in our series of modest fare increases equivalent to the rate of inflation,” Lisberg said.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally said that, despite some potential impact on LIRR customers from Nassau and Suffolk, including potentially fewer seats during the evening rush, the plan is still worth exploring — but only as part of a broader look at fares that could include similar discounts for intra-Island LIRR travel.

“You can’t look at one piece of the fare puzzle by itself. You have to look at all the pieces,” Pally said.

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