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NYC comptroller wants MTA to reduce LIRR fares within city

A Long Island Rail Road train enters Jamaica

A Long Island Rail Road train enters Jamaica station on Aug. 5, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A key New York City elected official wants the MTA to reduce the cost of all Long Island Rail Road trips made within the city to $2.75 — the same cost as a ride on a bus or subway.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Tuesday released a report titled “Expanding Access in One Swipe: Opening Commuter Lines to Metrocards.” In it, Stringer proposes “aligning fares within the five boroughs” across all of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s agencies, including its two commuter railroads, Metro-North and the LIRR.

Unlike the city’s buses and subways, which charge a “base fare” of $2.75 for travel anywhere in the New York City Transit system, the cost of a commuter rail ride depends on the distance traveled and the time of day. The cost of a one-way trip between any two points within the LIRR’s 26 stations in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan can cost up to $10.25.

The high cost of the LIRR effectively locks the system from city residents “behind a steep pay wall,” according to Stringer.

“The result is that commuters in these areas are forced to spend hours longer getting into Manhattan via subway and bus,” Stringer wrote in the report. “The LIRR to Penn Station, for instance, takes 35 minutes from Queens Village and 25 minutes from Auburndale. The same trip on the subway and local bus requires 80 minutes and 75 minutes, respectively.”

Stringer also proposed providing free transfers between commuter railroads, buses and subways and having railroads make more local stops at city stations.

He suggested in his report that there’s plenty of space on LIRR trains to accommodate the extra riders, noting that off-peak LIRR trains are “more than half empty” and that even peak trains have “significant spare capacity.”

MTA officials disputed that assertion, and said they expect that LIRR commuters standing on trains would too. MTA chairman Joseph Lhota called it “fiscally irresponsible” to recommend the fare reduction, which Stringer estimated would cost the MTA $50 million, without identifying a source of funding.

“The MTA is not a financially self-sustaining organization, and for the recommendations of the City Comptroller to be implemented, a subsidy is required,” Lhota said.

The MTA has already tinkered with the idea of discounting LIRR fares to make the railroad a more viable option for some city residents. In June, it introduced the “Atlantic Ticket,” which charges $5 for trips between its Brooklyn hub, Atlantic Terminal, and seven stations in Queens — a discount of 51 percent. The MTA has said the discount is only temporary as it studies the impact of the lower fare on LIRR and subway ridership.

Jomo Johnson, who lives in Rockville Centre and commutes to Rosedale via the LIRR, said he feels for Queens residents who are put off from using the railroad because of its high prices, but said the answer is not to discount fares for only some riders. 

“It would cause a problem,” said Johnson, 42, a truck driver, as he waited in Rosedale for an eastbound train. “It’s got to be even. It’s got to be reduced everywhere.”

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, the railroad's official watchdog group, agreed Stringer's proposal would benefit city riders, "at the expense of all LIRR commuters."

"While we understand that trains go through neighborhoods without good subway service and could bring service to those communities, this may not be the best way to go about it," Epstein said. "Additional stops would mean extra commuting time to work or home on already overcrowded and delayed trains."

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