An LIRR conductor checks out his train while stopped at...

An LIRR conductor checks out his train while stopped at Jamaica station July 8, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Long Island Rail Road just released its 2016 ridership numbers, and they show a busy system and a changing customer base that would like to use it even more. The 89.3 million rides provided was a 2 percent increase over 2015 and fell shy of the system’s record of 91.8 million set in 1949.

The LIRR just released its Origin and Destination Study, and the numbers show a changing picture: an increase in riders using the LIRR for trips other than the traditional weekday job commute to Manhattan. About one-third of weekday trips between 2012 and 2014 were for other reasons — about 9 percent for nonwork travel to Manhattan, and 6 percent for workers headed east for jobs and west toward home.

The study points to a millennial generation that craves public transportation, and potential for more ridership if service is improved. That’s true of the reverse-commute, which LIRR officials say will expand dramatically when a much-needed third track is added to the Main Line to enable more trains going against the traditional commuting direction. About 40 percent of millennials surveyed have no access to a car, twice as many as other adult riders. And they are increasingly employed in jobs, like health care and hospitality, that don’t correspond to the clock or geography of traditional commutes.

Long Island roads can’t take more traffic, and many young people don’t want to drive. The economy of Long Island needs to be able to include businesses staffed by city residents. And the LIRR needs to be better suited for inter-island trips. As ridership grows, the LIRR will soon be providing more rides each year than it did in 1949. If Long Island is to thrive, the LIRR needs to take riders where they want to go, and when they want to get there. — The editorial board