Long Island Rail Road riders rushing for a train after a Madison Square Garden event will soon have to show their tickets before boarding at Penn Station, as the LIRR tests its latest strategy to combat fare evasion, railroad officials said.
On Tuesday, the railroad advised riders “coming home from an event at Madison Square Garden” that LIRR personnel “may inspect your ticket before you board your train at Penn Station.”
“This is a new pilot to make sure that everyone has a valid ticket before they board,” the LIRR wrote in its message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We hope this will improve fare collection and prevent fare evasion.”
LIRR officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information on the program, including when it would begin and exactly how it would work.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Following events at Madison Square Garden, the Long Island Rail Road will require some riders to show their tickets before boarding a train at Penn Station.
- The new pilot program aims to address the problem of fare evasion, which costs the LIRR about $24 million annually. Collecting tickets on crowded trains following major arena events can be difficult, officials have said.
- The head of the LIRR's conductors union, and some commuters, expressed skepticism over the "gating" plan, because of how difficult it would be to implement in crowded Penn Station.
In a statement, LIRR acting president Robert Free said the railroad is "always looking to find ways to improve operations and reduce fare evasion."
"This is a pilot program that will allow us to determine how we want to proceed," Free said.
Riders skeptical: 'It's already crowded'
The announcement was immediately met with skepticism by some LIRR riders, including Lindenhurst commuter Susan Miller, who said she expects it will result in “chaos” at Penn Station, and inconvenience “regular folk just trying to go home from working the late shift.”
“With the nature of Penn Station and the LIRR concourses, I can't see it ever working,” Miller said. “The track announcement 'cattle call' will be terrible. There will be a logjam of folks going down the stairs.”
Babylon commuter Laurel Fanning also had a hard time believing the new ticket-checking system will work, especially with Penn Station travelers often “sprinting to make trains.”
“Now they have to stop and be checked?” Fanning said. "It’s already crowded and people pushing and shoving — I see a complete disaster with people fighting to get checked first so they don’t miss their train."
The move appears to follow up on a recommendation made earlier this year from a group of experts empaneled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR's parent organization, to address fare evasion, which costs the MTA about $700 million annually. About $24 million in uncollected fares is lost each year at the LIRR.
The report suggested that the LIRR and sister railroad Metro-North both conduct pilot programs “requiring riders to display their tickets at a checkpoint before they reach the platform.” The LIRR already uses such a “gating” system during sports and entertainment events near other stations, including Mets-Willets Point and Forest Hills.
In April, the railroad implemented a similar system at its Elmont-UBS Arena station. That came after complaints from LIRR train crew members about the difficulty of collecting tickets on crowded trains following events at the arena.
Union chief: We're against it
But Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR conductors union, said gating operations work at those stations because of “full crowd control” by police — something that would be far more complicated to pull off at Penn Station.
“Gating at Penn would require tremendous manpower to do it effectively,” said Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
Simon said he expects the railroad will “target only certain tracks and trains, which is inefficient to say the least.” He said his union is against the current proposal, which he believes is in response to recommendations from “panels and working groups that feel they know how to use our resources better” than the LIRR.
Although the LIRR has only disclosed plans to set up a gating operation at Penn during MSG events, the fare evasion panel, in its report, recommended the MTA "explore whether a simpler, less staff intensive version of gating should also occasionally be made part of the experience of everyday riders."
Among a list of $427 million in cost-cutting initiatives revealed in the MTA's latest financial plan on Monday was an effort by the LIRR to "strategically position" train crews to improve ticket collection and minimize revenue losses.
The problem of lost fares was highlighted in a recent Newsday report that found the LIRR issued more than 100,000 invoices last year to passengers who said they could not pay their fares, and received payment for just $60,000 out of the $1.4 million in delinquent fares. MTA officials said they have stepped up police enforcement of fare beaters on trains.
Buoyed by a state bailout earlier this year, the MTA's new financial plan showed balanced budgets through 2027. But officials warned the persistent problem of fare evasion could eat away at their gains.
“We have a problem and we’ve got to face it,” MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber told board members Wednesday at a meeting of the board's finance committee in Manhattan. “We cannot flinch from dealing with this.”