LIRR passengers board a train at Penn Station on March 3....

LIRR passengers board a train at Penn Station on March 3. Since last year, the number of passengers has increased but rider satisfaction has decreased. Credit: Craig Ruttle

LIRR riders remain less satisfied with their commutes than they were months before Grand Central Madison opened, but are a little more pleased than they were in the weeks after the chaotic launch of the new Manhattan terminal, the railroad’s latest customer survey shows.

The results came out on the same day that the Long Island Rail Road revealed that it increased ridership 24% in 2023, and came just short of hitting its on-time performance goal, even after significantly increasing the number of trains it operated. Ridership is now 72% of what it was pre-pandemic. At its lowest, in mid-2020, it was around 3%.

In its fall “Customers Count” survey — taken by more than 20,000 LIRR riders over two weeks in November — overall satisfaction came in at 70%, two percentage points higher than the 68% the LIRR reported in its spring survey. However, the satisfaction rating remains well below the 81% the LIRR reported throughout 2022.

There was also a modest increase in the number of riders who reported being “very satisfied” — the highest rating — and a modest decrease in those who said they were “very dissatisfied” — the lowest.

Satisfaction increased or held steady on all but one of the LIRR’s branches, Port Washington, where commuters were rankled over a decrease in express service to Manhattan following the opening of Grand Central. Jon Kaufman, chief of strategic initiatives for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent organization, noted that the LIRR adjusted its schedule to address Port Washington complaints in November, “just about smack in the middle of this survey time.”

Among the railroad’s branches, riders in the City Zone — which now includes one more station, Grand Central — were the most satisfied at 78%, followed by Far Rockaway travelers at 77%. As usual, riders on the Oyster Bay branch, which has long wait times in between trains and relies on problematic diesel locomotives — were least satisfied, at 55%. 

Despite being less than a year old at the time the survey was taken, Grand Central Madison saw its satisfaction rating drop 12 percentage points from the last survey, taken in May, to 68% — a reflection of the LIRR reducing the number of trains it operates at the station because of lower-than-expected demand, Kaufman said.

Meanwhile, the LIRR’s other Manhattan terminal, Penn Station — fresh off a $700 million renovation — saw satisfaction increase by 5 percentage points, to 69%.

LIRR acting president Robert Free on Monday also celebrated what he called a “significant increase in ridership” in 2023, as the railroad carried about 65 million passengers throughout the year, 24.4% more than in the prior year. With remote and hybrid work having become commonplace, MTA officials have said it may take until 2035 to get back all the riders they lost in the pandemic.

Free said the growth in riders is “undoubtedly” due to the large increase in service that came with the addition of Grand Central Madison. The railroad operated about 77,000 more trains in 2023 than in 2022.

After seeing delays skyrocket in the weeks immediately following the schedule overhaul that came with the opening of Grand Central, the LIRR closed out the year with an on-time performance of 93.9%— just shy of its 94% target. It’s the first time since  the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 that the railroad did not meet its on-time performance goal.

The LIRR considers a train on-time if it arrives at its final destination within five minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time. 

“We know that we still have work to do and will continue to do so,” Free said at the Manhattan meeting of the MTA Board’s railroad committee. “However, considering the magnitude of what was implemented last year … that is extremely reliable service.”

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