While Transit may one day add more service on Staten Island, for now, the authority is looking to charge more for the one commuter rail line currently servicing the borough. Earlier this year, the MTA started charging fares at Tompkinsville, and now, we learn that the entire line will be a fare-generating one in the near future.
As Maura Yates from the Staten Island Advance reports, the MTA will soon do away with free rides on the Staten Island Railway and will begin, within a few years, to require paid fares at every station. She writes:
The MTA plans to restore fare collection along the entire 14-mile rail line from St. George to Tottenville within the next few years, as part of a master plan to raise more revenue, cut down on crime and close what has been a free-ride perk that is unique in the city’s public transit system.
Turnstiles recently installed at the Tompkinsville station are the first part of the plan, which eventually will incorporate “Smart Card” technology to collect fares along the rest of the line. Riders now swipe their cards only at Tompkinsville and St. George, while the train is free for trips beginning and ending at any other stations along the line. Make the 37-minute trip between Stapleton and Tottenville, for instance, and pay not a cent.
When the new system goes online, which, owing to the MTA’s budget crisis, is still at least a few years away, passengers will no longer use MetroCards but rather pay with a “Smart Card,” likely a “tap and go” system, where a card is held up to a reader without the need to slow down to swipe. The system would include a way for inspectors to check for proof that the fare was paid, and scofflaws likely would face a steep fine if caught. If you didn’t pay and there were a spot check, “you’d have a problem,” said MTA board member Allen Cappelli.
While City Council members and MTA Board members are happy to discuss the impact fare collection and fare inspection will have on the safety and security of the State Island Railway, I’m more interested to hear about the costs. Yates reports that the new $6.9 million station at Tompkinsville will generate approximately $702,000 in fares this year. It will take, more or less, ten years to pay off that investment, more so if we consider depreciation and maintenance costs.
New York City Transit didn’t provide a revenue projection for the service or any potential information on the installation costs simply because it’s too remote a plan right now. While ridership dipped in 2009, recently, approximately 15,000 per day have been using the SIR, but because many of those enter and exit at the Ferry Terminal, their fares are captured. Although further investment in fare technologies on Staten Island could earn the MTA more revenue down the line and avert maintenance costs by discouraging vandalism, the overall net gains from this added revenue probably will not be realized much quicker than the investment at Tompkinsville will be.