Ridership on the Long Island Rail Road rebounded in November with some of the busiest days since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic while recording the railroad's best-ever on-time performance for that month, officials said Monday.
More than 166,000 riders used the rails on both Nov. 29 and Nov. 30, figures show, up from 32,600 on Nov. 29 and 80,000 on Nov. 30 in 2020.
LIRR president Phillip Eng said the railroad is consistently operating at about 52% to 55% of its 2019 monthly average of weekday and weekend riders.
"We expect December to kind of flatten out and maybe January as well because of the holidays," Eng told members of an MTA Board committee on Monday. "But we also expect that we will continue to see growth later in early 2022."
Ridership numbers decreased sharply in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it continues to recover, the LIRR has faced other challenges, such as easing the concerns of passengers who are uncomfortable traveling on crowded trains.
Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 9, ridership ranged from about 153,000 to more than 156,000. During the same time period in 2020, it was fewer than 80,000 each of those days.
Eng said the LIRR’s on-time performance in November was 95.31%, the highest recorded for that month. That percentage represents the trains that arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of their schedule.
"While I know Mother Nature can still throw us a curveball before we close out 2021, we are on pace to deliver our best single-year on-time performance ever," Eng said.
The overall on-time performance in recent years has improved from 90.4% in 2018 to 92.4% in 2019 to 95.9% in 2020 and 96.2% so far in 2021.
Eng said finding ways to make repairs quickly while upgrading track infrastructure and new switches will help avoid delays.
"We’re instilling a sense of urgency to fix things now," he said.
Eng also outlined steps the LIRR is taking to keep trains running in winter weather, including increased power washing, installing snow-switch covers, installing third-rail heaters and strengthening and replacing utility poles.
The MTA Board is set to vote Wednesday on an LIRR fare discount plan that would provide a 10% discount on monthly tickets, a new 20-Trip Ticket and a flat $5 fare for all weekday, off-peak trips within New York City.
The 20-Trip Ticket — which would only be available as an electronic ticket — would be good for 60 days and come with a 20% discount off the price of 20 peak trips.
If approved, the discounts would be offered starting March 1, the same day the LIRR would return to charging peak fares. Riders have been charged the cheaper off-peaks fares throughout the pandemic. Peak fares are charged for trips into New York City terminals between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. or depart city terminals between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The MTA Board also will consider a pilot fare capping program for subway and bus riders who use the OMNY fare system. Under that plan, customers would receive free, unlimited rides for the week after paying $33 in fares.
During a briefing on policing issues, board members were told that Capt. Anthony Dominici, commanding officer of MTA Police District 1, met with state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) to discuss issues at the Babylon LIRR Station.
In recent years, complaints about the station have ranged from drug and alcohol use to harassment from panhandlers.
MTA Police officials said they may work with the state Liquor Authority to help monitor alcohol sales in the neighborhood as well as add lights and cameras to the station.