Here's great news for the Long Island Rail Road's 85,100 daily off-peak commuters and the companies that employ them: The LIRR is expanding a pilot program that keeps station waiting rooms open until 10 on weeknights.
Until this year, waiting rooms have usually been open from 5 or 6 in the morning to midafternoon. As a result, westbound commuters in the evening often wound up waiting for trains on platforms that are frigid and wind-swept in winter and scorching hot in summer.
The LIRR says the longer hours so far have created no significant cleaning problems or vandalism.
The program will help the LIRR serve a changing customer base. In the last year alone, the railroad's off-peak ridership has increased by 5.3 percent.
Who's an off-peak rider?
They're people who ride east in the morning and west in the evening. Maybe they live in Manhattan or Queens and work on Long Island. Or maybe they live in Nassau County and work in Suffolk.
Later waiting-room hours also serve the railroad's non-commuters -- Long Islanders who use the train at peak or off-peak times to attend events in New York City or elsewhere on the Island.
Their numbers are up 6.5 percent in the last year alone -- as measured by riders who don't use monthly or weekly tickets. Example: The LIRR has already seen an uptick in riders since the Barclays Center opened near the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, the railroad has begun work on a much-needed second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma that will also make off-peak travel more convenient. The first stretch -- Ronkonkoma to Central Islip -- should be done in 2016. The Farmingdale stretch is scheduled to come on line in 2018. When it does, a new generation of riders will be waiting.