Service changes that came with the MTA's $11 billion investment to open Grand Central Madison resulted in a big drop in satisfaction among railroad riders, new survey results show.
After holding steady at 81% throughout 2022, overall satisfaction among LIRR riders fell 13 percentage points, to 68%, in the railroad’s latest “Customers Count Survey" results released Monday. The survey was taken in May — weeks after the railroad launched full service to its new Manhattan terminal, Grand Central Madison, on Feb. 27.
About 21,000 LIRR riders took the survey, which was primarily administered online. That’s up 29% since the railroad last surveyed riders in the fall.
Speaking at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter railroad committee Monday, LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi said railroad officials were “not surprised” by the drop in satisfaction among riders, “given the early rough patches” in the rollout of the railroad’s new Grand Central Madison service plan. The new schedules reduced service to and from Penn Station, eliminated timed transfers, and transformed the Brooklyn branch into a shuttle service to and from Jamaica.
“Obviously, the [survey] results were certainly not welcome,” said Rinaldi, who noted that forthcoming schedule changes recently announced by the railroad aim to “directly address some of the most consistent complaints that we’ve been hearing about the new service plan.”
Jon Kaufman, MTA chief of strategic initiatives, attributed much of the drop in overall satisfaction to the major changes made to Brooklyn service. To accommodate new service to Grand Central, the railroad moved most Brooklyn trains to a dedicated platform on the far south side of Jamaica.
As a result, overall satisfaction among riders bound for Atlantic Terminal plummeted by 41 percentage points, from 82% in the fall survey to 41% in the spring survey. Satisfaction among Penn Station-bound riders fell 16 points, to 64%. Grand Central Madison riders, appearing for the first time on the survey, reported a satisfaction rate of 80%, the highest of all the New York City terminals.
“While we’ve added an amazing new terminal for East Midtown travelers, and many more options for all, the resulting schedule adjustments meant many more folks may have to transfer to get where they want at the exact time they want,” Kaufman said.
Satisfaction was down on all but one of the LIRR’s branches, Montauk. The biggest drop-off came among riders on the Oyster Bay branch, which was hit particularly hard by the loss of scheduled transfers at Jamaica. Because of the relatively infrequent service on the branch, missing a connection at Jamaica could mean waiting an hour or more.
Kaufman noted that the LIRR “has worked very hard to improve the transfer experience” since the opening of Grand Central Madison, including through better communication with customers. He said there’s evidence of that work paying off, as a more recent survey of a smaller group of LIRR riders has indicated an increase in satisfaction among riders making frequent transfers.
Also in response to customer complaints about the overhauled service, the railroad on Friday announced several schedule changes taking effect Sept. 15. They include more direct service from stations east of Jamaica, an increased distribution of Brooklyn trains across different tracks at Jamaica, more express trains on the Huntington and Ronkonkoma branches, and rerouting some Grand Central trains to Penn Station, including on evenings after events at Madison Square Garden.
Jack Nierenberg, vice president of Passengers United, a transit ride advocacy group, applauded the forthcoming changes, especially those on the Brooklyn line.
“It looks very promising,” Nierenberg said. “I’m really hopeful about some necessary changes being made to other branches.”