State Senator takes aim at LIRR refund policyBy
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.