State Senator takes aim at LIRR refund policy


For a long time, the MTA had a very generous refund policy for its commuter rail ticket holders. Those who were unable to use their tickets had six months to turn them in for a full refund. It was rider-friendly and easy to to understand. That all ended last year.

When the authority voted to raise their fares last year, they implemented a series of hidden fare hikes as well. These measures didn’t garner as many headlines as the MetroCard hikes, but they were just as harmful to commuters’ wallets. The one that has generated much outrage has been the changes to the refund policy. All tickets must be returned within 30 days, and to get a refund, passengers must pay a $10 service fee.

As many Long Islanders quickly learned in January, the $10 fee often exceeded the cost of the ticket, and politicians grew outraged. “In the worst of circumstances there’s always a restocking fee,” State Sen. Jack Martins said in January. “But why a $10 processing fee? If you look at the fares Long Island Rail Road and you consider that most of those fares are going further than those $10, what they’re telling you is if you don’t use the ticket, they’ve just picked your pocket.”

Recently, Martins has issued a bill that would rectify the situation. Without an Assembly counterpart yet, the bill has been referred to the proper state committee, and it is available here. In it, Martins tries to limit the MTA’s ability to recoup its expenses. It says that the MTA is “prohibited from assessing any surcharge or processing fee for the return of any such unused ticket purchased for use on the Long Island Rail Road.” Metro-North riders, no one is looking out for you.

In addition to this explicit ban on the MTA’s economic approach, Martins wants to return the old refund structure to the massess. The authority would be forced to give a full refund up to six months for unused tickets. Thus, Martins’ bill would, in effect, roll back this part of the December fare hike. “Customers have had to deal fare increases and service cuts,” Martins said to the Patch site from Mineola. “To put in a processing fee just to return a ticket is arrogant at best. This legislation repeals the processing fee, which should never have been instituted.”

Does Martins’ stance make sense? From a position of a politician searching for votes, it certainly does. The MTA is fully exploiting its customers, and by instituting such an extreme refund penalty, the authority has effectively made most ticket sales final. On the other hand, by granting refunds, the agency incurs processing costs that it should try to recoup. If Albany won’t fund the refunds, why should the authority?

The best solution is, of course, a compromise. If the MTA can lessen the refund service fee while extending the time frame past the 30-day mark, everyone should walk away happy. Otherwise, this decidedly anti-customer measure could cause more headaches than it is worth.

Categories : LIRR

28 Responses to “State Senator takes aim at LIRR refund policy”

  1. Walter says:

    I actually like the two-week validity for rail tickets; on some peak Metro-North trains there may be only one conductor, and so when people hop on at intermediate stops to travel one or two stops and try to evade fare (usually by hiding in the bathroom), he may only catch them once a week. This ensures they either buy a ticket every two weeks, or pay the higher on-board fare when caught. The 99% of people who do buy tickets and use them correctly really aren’t affected.

    I also heard the old refund policy was rife for abuse by scammers, but a fee of a couple dollars should suffice, not ten.

  2. Christopher says:

    Or eliminate the refund policy entirely. If you don’t use your airplane ticket, you don’t get a refund. (Or rarely.) What an absolutely stupid idea.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Airline tickets are refundable iff your ticket is refundable, which requires buying into a higher fare bucket. Ditto train tickets on railroads that hate their customers as much as airlines do, like the TGV.

      • Christopher says:

        Who knew? Not my poor ass. I certainly have never had an Amtrak replaced. Perhaps LIRR should start charging more for refundable tickets?

        • Alon Levy says:

          Amtrak will book you on the next train if you miss your train. I forget whether there’s an extra charge.

          The LIRR should charge more, sure, if it wants people to hate it the same way they hate the airlines. As for me, I’d rather follow in the footsteps of non-sadists. JR East offers 90% discounts on nearly all lines, as Ajedrez proposes.

          • Nathanael says:

            I see no reason to allow tickets to be refunded more than 30 days after the planned date of travel. Seriously, if you miss your train and want a refund, surely you can manage to request the refund within a MONTH.

            • bamom says:

              The 30 day refund policy isn’t really the issue, it is the $10 service charge that they are imposing on the commuter – in order to return the unused ticket. That is the problem. I think most people would agree with you that 30 days is sufficient, but I don’t think that a $10 service fee is appropriate.

  3. Rob says:

    I have never heard of a refund policy like this for a commuter rail service. I can’t say I use LIRR, but it seems like this policy is the result of passengers having to purchase tickets for specific trains at specific times, is that correct? In Boston, passengers purchase tickets based solely on zone, which can be used on any lines at any time. If passengers miss their train or change their mind about using a ticket, they just use it on some future date.

    One thing Boston does have is an “On-Time Guarantee” policy, which will offer refunds to passengers on trains which are delayed more than 30 minutes. Unfortunately it’s a joke how easy this policy can be abused. One lady got over $1,000 in refunds by claiming dead relatives and even her dogs were on trains.

    • Alon Levy says:

      No, you don’t purchase tickets for a specific train on the LIRR. You purchase them for a specific station of origin and destination.

      • Berk32 says:

        Actually the tickets are sold by zone-to-zone. The fact you select 2 stations is only there as an extra convenience – you can travel between any 2 stations as long as they are the same zones as the one on your ticket – I’ve gone from Brooklyn to Rockville Center with a ticket that said Penn to Island Park (both zone 1 to zone 7)

    • bamom says:

      You are so lucky you live in Boston. I heard that Boston (MBTA) just got Quiet Cars…in fact, every major train line in the entire country has Quiet Cars, except for the LIRR (MTA). And I had never heard of an “On time guarantee”…wow! Of course, the LIRR could never offer that! 95% our our trains are delayed or cancelled! I have been on many other commuter rails throughout the country (and I am a daily commuter on the LIRR) and I have to honestly say this: the LIRR is the absolute worst with respect to cost, late trains, filth, smells, rude conductors, and LOUD rude disrespectul passengers who lack self control and do not know how to behave in public.

    • bamom says:

      You are so lucky you live in Boston. I heard that Boston (MBTA) just got Quiet Cars…in fact, every major train line in the entire country has Quiet Cars, except for the LIRR (MTA). And I had never heard of an “On time guarantee”…wow! Of course, the LIRR could never offer that! 95% our our trains are delayed or cancelled! I have been on many other commuter rails throughout the country (and I am a daily commuter on the LIRR) and I have to honestly say this: the LIRR is the absolute worst with respect to cost, late trains, filth, smells, rude conductors, and LOUD rude disrespectul passengers who lack self control and do not know how to behave in public.

  4. Brian says:

    The two-week validity of tickets only serves to discourage buying tickets in advance for those who travel infrequently on a particular route. I used to buy a ticket for a future trip at the end of a trip so I could avoid having to allow extra time to buy a ticket before boarding, but now I can’t do that anymore.

    So if the fare on a route is the same after 2 weeks, why not continue honoring these tickets? Because people will now be a little more likely to have to buy their tickets on board, where the fare is several dollars higher, and cash only.

  5. John says:

    How much could it actually cost to refund a ticket? You give it to the agent, they give you money. They’re already working…

    Is this about mail-in refunds? I say don’t allow mail-in refunds. If you want a refund, you can go to a ticket window.

    • Quinn Hue says:

      Accounting has to deal with extra carbon copies. Same reason why the MTA increased the price of a SingleRide. Face value these things seem frivolous, but in actuality they’re a pain.

  6. rob says:

    John ,

    As an LIRR EMP , I can tell the Ticket offices will all be closed by 2012(Except 9 Terminals). The MTA wants to spend as little as possible on revenue collection as possible. You will never see fully staffed Ticket Offices again , that is simply not in management’s plans.

  7. BBnet3000 says:

    Whatever happened with that disability scandal from last year?

    1) LIRR needs to get its labor costs in order.

    2) LIRR needs to get its service costs in order (DMUs/actual cuts of service that only carries 30 passengers a day)

    3) Metro style conversions. One operator per train, no ticket checking (either faregates or POP), infill stations in the city. These are the primary reasons (as I see it) that BART can charge $7.40 for a 40 minute commute into downtown SF, while LIRR charges… what is it now? Their site is confusing as hell, but last time i rode it was at least $14.50 round trip, off peak no less.

    • Christopher says:

      BART and Metro are weird as they combine two separate types of systems and sort of fail miserably at both. A longer haul regional train is NOT the same as a short haul subway. And the needs of the riders are significantly different. I think BART is quite a bit more expensive than that now. It was $5 and some just to go under the bay. The similar systems from the Bay Area and DC to LIRR would be MTA in Maryland or VRE in Virginia or Caltrain on the peninsula, which are significantly lower capacity. With nicer accommodations for long haul rides and comparably priced.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    On POP systems, tickets can have long periods of validity, but the riders need to validate them just before boarding, so that they can’t be reused if there’s no inspection. And of course, a large majority of riders use unlimited passes.

  9. ajedrez says:

    Couldn’t they have the processing fee be 10-20% of the ticket price, rather than a flat $10 (or possibly, $1 plus 10-20% of the ticket price). It seems very unfair that somebody who bought a ticket to go from Penn Station to the Hamptons has to pay the same price to refund the ticket as somebody who bought say, a Jamaica-Hempstead ticket.

    They have a similar policy in Home Depot: You buy it for one price, and can return it for a slightly lower price.

    They are probably trying to prevent people from abusing the refund system and buying tickets willy-nilly, but they have to consider that somebody buying 10 tickets at once is better than the person buying 10 tickets 1 at a time (also considering that ease of payment is a factor in making a trip: If somebody has to worry about buying a ticket just as the train is pulling in, they might not make the trip using the LIRR). Still, there has to be a better way to do this: A combination of a flat fee plus a variable fee (and a longer grace period) would be the way to do this.

  10. wendy says:

    Receieved a letter from the Long Island Railroad stating that my ticket from Babylon to Manhattan was $9.75. Their reprocessing fee for said refund is $10.00, therefore no refund is due me.
    I am surprised that the railroad didn’t bill me for 25cents. The reprocessing fee should be a percentage of the ticket price. Not a set fee. I feel totally ripped off and I was taken for a ride but not on the railroad!

  11. Gleyri says:

    I normally buy monthly tickets from Huntington to Manhattan the cost of the monthly is $299.00 and travel five days a week. It was totally fine with me, I never had any complaints about the LIRR at all until September.
    I didn’t buy the monthly because I was going to be out of the country for two weeks, so I decided to buy a weekly for $97.00.
    Long story short life happens to people and my trip got cancelled due to a promotion at work, and a I came in a couple days later to exchange my unused weekly ticket for a monthly and I was told that I wait it too long (two days that I was off from work) and that the ticket had to be returned not exchange. Ofcourse I agree because I didn’t know that they were going to ripped me off.
    About two weeks later I receipt my refund and I couldn’t believe my eyes they give me back $19.00 of the $97.00 and ofcourse my loss is their win because I had to keep giving them my money for another two weeks.
    I requested a transfer at work and thankfully I got it, I’ll be working in town and the can now go steal from someone else.
    to me this is just like someone stealing your purse and running way with your stuff , is very frustrating.

  12. nick says:

    Why should a ticket expire, you’re not purchasing entrance to a one time event! the money u used to buy it doesnt have an expiration date. you purchased the right to ride from zone x to zone y. what’s the point of having an artificial expiration date on it? if you want to do that, because paper decomposes, whatever, than allow an even exchange, but no refund. If my Metro card expires I take it to the window and they give me a new one, with a new expiration date. for people that dont travel every day to a desitination, it gives the the benefit of guying a 10pak and using it when they need it. it helps the LIRR too – they get more money up front!

    charge a % of face value if you do want a refund.. that would be fair. the current system is the equivalent of stealing from the riding public.

  13. Enda Perrota says:

    I’ll be honest, I’m kinda confused. But good blog.

  14. Sue Dao says:

    The current policy is absurd! I buy a monthly and thought I left my ticket at home, so I go and buy a one way ticket for $7.50 when I sit down on the train I find my monthly ticket. I say to myself o.k I will get a refund tomorrow. But, No they have imposed a $10.00 fee to refund my $7.50! This is just there way of sticking it/to the customer! Lier, Lier! Picking my pocket when I already pay a total of $350.00 a month for LIRR and MTA ticket! This is so unfair! The $7.50 ticket is only good for 14 days so I don’t know what the 30 day is about it is all lies! I can’t even give it to a friend who may be visiting me from Manhattan, They would have to run over to my house a.s.a.p.

    Thank God for Senator Martin he is the only one with a clear mind on this issue!


  1. […] period for pre-purchased ticket use down to two weeks, instituted a $10-refund fee and generally angered everyone. As part of the service investments set to roll out over the next year, the authority has rolled […]

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