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Editorial: MTA upgrades are a sure ticket

LIRR is partnering with CooCoo, a Long Island

LIRR is partnering with CooCoo, a Long Island based technology firm, to bring online tickets to LIRR passengers this summer for The Barclays PGA Tour Event at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale. (July 23, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority takes a beating when it reduces services, nickels and dimes its customers, and fails to get its technology to match the standards of the previous century, much less this one. So it's only fair that the MTA gets some accolades when it expands service, lets up on chintzy ticket-validity deadlines, and begins moving toward printable and smartphone ticketing.

The MTA announced Monday it will put a proposal before its full board to extend the validity of one-way and round-trip tickets from 14 days to 60, and extend the time such tickets can be exchanged for a refund to 60 days, up from 30. That's progress, as is the plan to allow six months for 10-trip tickets to be refunded, instead of just 30 days. Still to be improved is the excessive $10 charge on all ticket refunds, enacted last year.

As part of this customer service campaign, the Long Island Rail Road will also add service on the Ronkonkoma branch on weekends and weekday mornings and restore some runs -- cut two years ago as the MTA scrambled to maintain solvency -- to the Montauk, Port Jefferson and Long Beach branches. These additions are a part of increased service all over the MTA service area, thanks to increased ridership and revenue systemwide. The fact that much of the revenue increase comes from a fare hike in 2010 and another increase planned for next year is regrettable, but the changes do promise to keep public transportation a workable option in a traffic-clogged region.

Perhaps most exciting is the MTA's testing of technology to let riders download tickets to smartphones or print them after ordering online. Airlines and movie theaters mastered this years ago, but it will be better late than never for the MTA.

First comes a pilot project for customers traveling to and from The Barclays PGA Tournament at Bethpage State Park in August. If that's successful, implementation throughout the LIRR and on Metro-North would follow.

The quality of public transportation is intrinsic to the quality of life in this region, and these initiatives, properly implemented, may well improve both.