The president of the Long Island Rail Road said that while he can't control whether the MTA raises fares later this month, he is doing his best to give riders more value for their dollar.
Phillip Eng's remarks came Wednesday night at the railroad's Customer Conversation forum in Wyandanch, where Wheatley Heights resident Sandra Thomas noted the high cost of commuting on the railroad was forcing Long Islanders to make difficult financial decisions. She noted her daughter moved to Brooklyn because the cost of a monthly railroad ticket was "prohibitive."
"Many of my neighbors also have decided that the cost of their train fare is a car note. And so they bought a car," said Thomas, a senior citizen who said she and her husband sometimes elect to drive into Manhattan to catch a Broadway show, rather than take a train.
"Because if it's going to cost me $40, I'll pay the parking," she said.
The MTA board is scheduled to vote Feb. 27 on the fare increase, which would bring the average cost of a monthly LIRR ticket to $344, more than double what it cost 20 years ago.
Responding to Thomas, Eng said that while the proposed fare increase is "a board decision," he's been focused on finding ways to give riders more bang for their fare buck.
"We know that we just can't keep asking customers for that," Eng said. "I know people have been looking at what the value of the ticket is. We've been trying to enhance the value."
Eng said that includes looking for "value capture" opportunities in which the railroad could financially benefit from private development projects near LIRR stations. He also said the railroad is pursuing new revenue streams, like its "Adopt-a-Station" program, which allows private companies to sponsor upgrades at stations.
He said the railroad also has looked for new ways to maximize the buying power of a railroad ticket, including by letting monthly ticket-holders travel for free anywhere in the system during summer and fall weekends, and bring up to four guests paying $1 each way.
"It's a small thing, but we think it's an important thing," Eng said.
Eng also said the railroad's new customer loyalty program, which provides monthly customers discounts for restaurants, hotels and other services, has grown to include more than 100 merchants.