An LIRR worker collects and scans tickets at the UBS Elmont...

An LIRR worker collects and scans tickets at the UBS Elmont train station after the Islanders' playoff game Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Just in time for the Islanders’ first-ever playoff run at UBS Arena, the Long Island Rail Road has enacted a new fare collection system aimed at preventing fans from getting a free ride to or from a game.

But the new ticket “gating” program has gotten off to a rough start, according to some riders and union officials, who said the railroad’s lack of communication about the new system has contributed to crowding, confusion and delays during its initial rollout.

The railroad is calling the gating program at its Elmont-UBS Arena station a “pilot,” and said it will only be in place for major events at UBS Arena and Belmont Park, when high ridership is expected. The LIRR first tested the gating concept at the arena during the April 9 Bruce Springsteen concert.

Railroad interim president Catherine Rinaldi said Tuesday that the program aims to address two goals: “number one, to control customer flow if there’s going to be a lot of people, and, number two, to enhance fare collection.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The LIRR has implemented a fare “gating” system at its Elmont-UBS Arena station, where riders must show their train tickets upon arriving at the station before an event, and before boarding a train after an event.
  • Officials said the goal of the system, which has been used for years at other stations near major sports and entertainment venues, is to control crowding at station platforms, and to minimize lost fare revenue.
  • Riders and union officials said early tests of the new system, including at the April 12 Islanders game, resulted in some confusion and delays at the station, because of insufficient staffing and communication.

Under the system, LIRR conductors, positioned at the station platform, check riders’ tickets as they arrive at Elmont for an arena event, and before boarding a train at the conclusion of an event. The strategy has been in place since 2006 at the LIRR’s Mets-Willets Point station, near Citi Field, and is also used at other stations during major events, including concerts at Forest Hills Stadium.

The program comes after months of calls from LIRR conductors’ union leadership, which expressed frustration with the crowding conditions at the station’s platform, and onboard trains, before and after arena events. The trains would get so packed, union officials said, that it would be difficult to collect all fares during the 11-minute ride to and from Jamaica station, a key transfer point.

“It was chaotic. Everybody was all over. The trains were packed. We were missing fares because the trains were too crowded,” said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represents LIRR conductors.

LIRR conductors’ union leadership has expressed frustration with the crowding...

LIRR conductors’ union leadership has expressed frustration with the crowding conditions at the station’s platform before and after arena events. Above, a scene from an Islanders game in November 2021. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin / All Island Aerial.com

Rinaldi acknowledged that the new system comes as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — wrestles with a growing fare evasion problem that costs the agency an estimated $600 million a year. The LIRR said in 2019 that it loses about $20 million annually in unpaid fares.

“When you have a bunch of people rushing on a train all at once, it makes it very challenging for our crews to collect the fare. That’s kind of the underlying philosophy behind having these … gating systems in place,” Rinaldi said.

A surprise to fans

But the rollout of the new system “came out a little bumpy,” according to Simon. Following the Islanders’ final regular-season game on April 12, hockey fans were surprised to find barricades at the station and conductors waiting to check their tickets.

The railroad acknowledged delays of up to 15 minutes between Jamaica and Hicksville “due to a high volume of customers traveling from Elmont UBS Arena.” Simon attributed the problems to the LIRR not getting the word out in advance about the new setup, and only having a couple of conductors to collect and sell tickets to hundreds of passengers waiting to board.

Among those travelers was Islanders season ticket holder Ryan Paulsen of Manhattan, who said he was “pretty furious.”

“It’s pretty insulting to roll that out on, literally, game 82 with no warning,” Paulsen said. “Fare gating is fine, but make sure we know it’s happening.”

Responding to some complaints over the rollout, LIRR officials said they would make several adjustments to the gating program at Elmont before the Islanders’ playoff homestand, including by boosting staffing levels and making sure riders know about the program beforehand through announcements on social media, on trains, and at the station.

An LIRR worker checks a ticket after Friday night's game.

An LIRR worker checks a ticket after Friday night's game. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The railroad also will have several lanes set up at the station — some with conductors exclusively checking tickets, and others for riders who have not yet purchased tickets.

UBS Arena officials declined to comment. Simon said representatives from his union, and from LIRR management, met with arena executives Wednesday to make sure the Islanders’ playoff run “goes off without any problems.”

Scattered delays Friday night

The railroad carried about 4,100 fans to Friday's game, according to LIRR spokesman David Steckel, who said the gating operation after the game "ran smoothly."

"There were some minor delays through Elmont-UBS station that were related to the high volume of customers leaving the arena at the same time," Steckel said. "The LIRR held some trains to ensure that no one was left behind just like it does after Mets games and like NYC Transit does with the 4 train after Yankees games."

Following Friday night's game, Paulsen said, he observed several more conductors and police officers at Elmont than last week. But he still ran into issues, as the railroad ran limited westbound service after the game because of a state Department of Transportation bridge replacement project in Queens. 

That same project also will affect riders getting to and from Sunday’s Game 4 at the UBS Arena. Before Sunday’s game, the LIRR will run four westbound trains to Elmont — two from Ronkonkoma, and one each from Farmingdale and Huntington.

After the game, there will be hourly westbound service from Elmont on the Hempstead branch. The railroad also will operate some shuttle trains from the arena to Jamaica.

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