Nov
16

Calls grow louder for rationalizing commuter rail fares within New York City

By

We spend a lot of time talking about where New York City’s transit system goes and how it could be better, but we don’t spend too much time talking about where the transit doesn’t go. We know how current service could be improved, and we all have fantasy maps regarding planned service extensions. But we don’t always address the so-called transit deserts where transit riders have few options and commuters face long rides to job centers.

At a time when affordability is a buzzword surrounding the political discourse in the city, these transit deserts stick out like a sore thumb, and last week, Ydanis Rodriguez, head of the City Council’s transportation committee, held a hearing on improving access. From light rail to ferries, the speakers ran the gamut of topics we’ve discussed over the past few years, and those facing questions responded adeptly. For instance, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg spoke about how light rail involves more than just tracks and a line on a map; it involves, she explained, the need to invest in the infrastructure behind light rail and create a sustainable network.

One idea though that has come up time and again over the years involves commuter rail access through New York City. When I was in Berlin and Paris this past summer, I had the opportunity to ride both the S-Bahn and RER trains, and for someone used to New York City’s concept of commuter rail, the European model is eye-opening. These trains enjoy the benefits of through-running through center city areas, and the fare structure is rationalized to encourage both intra-city and city-to-suburb travel. It didn’t cost me more to take the RER a few stops than it would have to make a similar trip on the Metro.

Here, the LIRR and Metro-North do not share a fare structure with each other, let alone with New York City Transit, and those who board commuter rail lines within New York City pay a much higher — and often cost-prohibitive — fare. If our politicians have their ways, this practice would end, and riders would be able to use commuter rail trains within the boroughs for a much lower cost. The city is pushing aggressively to make this happen, and one MTA Board member is embracing the cause.

As officials explained, last week, they want the MTA to reduce fares on intra-city travel and provide a free transfer from the LIRR or Metro-North to New York City Transit’s network. The MTA though is crying poverty. Agency Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast claimed that such a move would cost the agency $70 million per year and that no one has yet identified how to cover the missing revenue. “We just can’t agree to accept that kind of loss especially since we already lose so much money on other services,” spokesman Adam Lisberg said to Gothamist. “This year we will lose $575 million on unreimbursed paratransit service as well as discounted fares for seniors and free rides for schoolchildren. When we start each year more than half a billion dollars in the hole, we don’t want to dig it any deeper.”

Allen Cappelli, the Board member who plans to bring up the issue during today’s committee meetings, doesn’t accept the cries of poverty. “Honestly, it sounds to me like seat-of-the-pants analysis and I think this issue warrants more than somebody’s best guess,” Cappelli said to the Daily News. “Now that money is, while tight, not as dire as it was, we ought to be looking for ways to improve service for people in our region.”

This debate of course gets to the heart of the conflict between the suburban-focused commuter rail and the city-centric subway system. Do suburban riders want city passengers hoping on board their commuter trains for a few stops? Do suburban riders want to see their trains slowed in order to make more stops to better serve inaccessible areas? Can MTA agencies work together on rational fare policies? These are questions that hit at the very essence of the MTA’s regional approach and haven’t been satisfactorily addressed in years.

I expect this conversation to continue, especially as the MTA looks to reactivate certain LIRR stops in Queens and bring Metro-North into Penn Station via the Penn Station Access plan. Eventually, we have to move toward a European model. But can we get there without unnecessary kicking and screaming? We’ll find out soon.



188 Responses to “Calls grow louder for rationalizing commuter rail fares within New York City”

  1. Peter L says:

    Never mind the $70M in “lost” fares (which actually seems pretty small), where will the new capacity come from? I don’t have any idea of ridership patterns on either railroad, but I’m going to guess there are not a lot of empty seats once the trains get into the city.

    Otherwise, it makes sense.

    • AG says:

      In my experience with metro north the only times there are ample seats when it gets to The Bronx are between 10am and 3pm. That said it does make sense to lower the fares intra-city (though I doubt to subway fares) I doubt there could be an increase in capacity. Still it can/will help some people. One thing that definitely needs to be torn down is the railroad fiefdom. Hopefully with a modern payment system that will happen sooner.

    • anon_coward says:

      lots of “express” trains that bypass stations even though they ride on the local tracks. make those trains stop at the stations.

      • SEAN says:

        Part of the reason for that is… instead of two tracks each way during rush piriods, it’s three & one.

        • Eric says:

          On Park Ave, it’s three and one in rush hour. However, those 4 tracks feed about 10 tracks total on the various Bronx lines. So it is easy to have local and express tracks in both directions in the Bronx.

          • SEAN says:

            On the New Haven Line it’s also three & one, Harlem is one one or two one outside The Bronx & on the Hudson, it varies based on the line segment from one one to three one.

    • kevdflb says:

      There don’t need to be empty seats.
      People riding a few stops, for 10-15 minutes will likely stand.

      • SEAN says:

        Been there, done that Jamaica – Mineola numerous times.

      • AG says:

        Right – but commuter cars are not built with rails to stand and hold on to like the subway. You can stand at the door (which I do)… But that gets filled up easily. Can’t see many LIRR and MNR trains having people standing in the aisles. I have seen it – but only on rare occasions like snowstorms.

        • SEAN says:

          Oh, I guess you haven’t taken the LIRR in from Mineola after 3PM during the week? Fridays are especially crowded. It can take several minutes just to allow all boardings there.

          • AG says:

            No – never taken it – but that reinforces the issue. These are not subway cars with rails people can hold on to… How can more passengers be added without a radical re-working of the system? It’s not just as simple as changing price to subway fares without dealing with all of the issues that will come up.

            • JJJ says:

              Have you actually been on the train? Every seat has a hand rail to grab onto.

              • AG says:

                You are joking right? You seriously compare those little things to being able to crowd into and hold on to the rail in a subway car???

                • JJJJ says:

                  Uh, one handle per person seems pretty good. Have you never been on a commuter train outside NYC where that is standard practice?

                  Of course not.

                  • AG says:

                    You are living in a dream world if you think on every train during rush hour you will have dozens of people crowding into the narrow aisles of those commuter trains like they are subways. Dream world.

          • LLQBTT says:

            Rode a New Haven Line train from Stamford to NYC on a Friday evening around 6:30. SRO through the entire train. Stood all the way to 125. How lovely for the “privileged” commuter rail experience. I would prefer to stand on the subway any day.

  2. Bgriff says:

    This is a good idea, even if our rail systems are not set up to be as useful to short-haul commuters as the RER and S-Bahn (which have through-running built into the heart of the system, for a start). But as with so many “Europe does it better” ideas, it requires DNA-level change in a way that the MTA has rarely demonstrated. Most notably, it probably requires fare gates at close-in commuter rail stations, which would be particularly challenging to set up at GCT and especially Penn, but even at many suburban stations it would be tricky, since ticket vending machines often sit on the platform itself.

    And, if short-haul rail riders are to be able to use a Metrocard to pay, saving the need to stop and buy a separate ticket, it may require reprogramming how Metrocard works in order to require swiping out as well as in — a philosophy change that may not even be within the capabilities of the current Metrocard system.

    • AG says:

      I agree – though by the time this is done they probably will wait for a new “smart” system for payments

    • anon_coward says:

      don’t need to. the monthly LIRR tickets are already LIRR on one side and Metro-Card on the other. you simply have to program the machine that if you buy a City Ticket then it puts value onto the Metro-Card part

    • Alon Levy says:

      It does not require faregates. The RER, the Stockholm commuter rail system, and the Japanese systems have faregates, but the S-Bahn systems in the German-speaking world do not. Like the new-build light rail lines in North America, the S-Bahn systems use proof-of-payment and are happy with it.

    • JJJJ says:

      “Most notably, it probably requires fare gates at close-in commuter rail stations, which would be particularly challenging to set up at GCT and especially Penn, but even at many suburban stations it would be tricky, since ticket vending machines often sit on the platform itself.”

      There are many, many options.

      If you went with 1800s style turnstiles, you wouldn’t install them at Penn or GCT, but just at those inner suburban stations. Riders would swipe to pay on their way out and on their way in.

      A superior system would obviously be contactless cars with validation machines. No gates needed. That could apply to the entire rail system

    • Tim says:

      What I want to know is, how is it that London is able to have the Oyster card system up and running for almost a decade now, and we’re still dragging our feet? We need something like that yesterday.

  3. adirondacker12800 says:

    New York City has had an RER since the subway started to run local and express service along Broadway. In 1904.

    • smotri says:

      That’s missing the point. The idea is that existing Metro North and LIRR trains, which serve areas of the City where there are no subways, would be usable just as subways, with a simple Metrocard, and without having to pay a separate fare.

    • kevdflb says:

      Berlin’s RER trains are absolutely nothing like NY’s express subway lines.

      • Jeff says:

        Can’t really say the S-Bahn are anything like the LIRR or MNR either, with the 5-10 minute headways during rush hour and all. They are rapid transit systems that run into suburban areas, not too unlike the BART.

        The equivalent system in NYC is probably the PATH.

        • kevdflb says:

          Oops! My mistake.

          I was thinking the RE in Berlin.
          The RER is Paris’ commuter system while the RE is Regi Express in German cities, which uses the same fare zones as S Bahns, U Bahns, Buses and RB – (Regi Bahn) Trains.
          RE are just express commuter trains, like those that go to New Haven and skip lots of stops along the way. The RB routes are the ones that make all the suburban stops.

          But, the RER isn’t really like express subways either – but rather just commuter rail that is through running and on the same fare zone system as the metro. Its something that doesn’t exist in NY.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        No they aren’t. Zoned fares for one.

    • LLQBTT says:

      The RER and S Bahn serve the suburbs, unless you’re referring to Fieldston. ?

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        Suburb is subjective. Forest Hills Gardens is quite suburban.
        How many miles/kilometers long are they? Far Rockaway to 207th Street is supposedly 31 miles.

  4. Michael Finfer says:

    As Peter L says, the problem is capacity. If you were to charge only $2.75 (the MetroCard fare is really $2.48), trains stopping at places like Forest Hills where the subway is nearby would likely be overrun with people. Most of those trains are crowded already, even off peak, and some of those platforms are only four cars long. I would expect that it would be difficult for train crews to collect those tickets, and I would expect those passengers to be able to ride back and fourth on a single one way ticket until it expires.

    This is an issue that needs to be addressed first.

    • webster says:

      Well…isn’t the elephant in the room, then, deciding just how the new fare system/card should work?

      Sounds like an opportune time to begin thinking about extending the card to LIRR and MNR as planning gets underway to replace the Metrocard for the subways.

      In any case, I suppose the commuter lines could still charge a peak fare, but it would be zone based: something significantly lower for rides beginning and ending within NYC, or even by borough.

      As for through-running, it would have been nice if it was decided long enough ago that this was a goal worth working towards that progress could have been made, by now. A lot of the technological incompatibilities and barriers (i.e. no connection between GCT and Penn) could have been addressed through all of the capital projects that have taken place over the last few years.

      At this point, I’m curious to see if the Gateway EIS will even recommend the extension of service to GCT as a desirable outcome. Not in the scope of the current project, but something the work of this project ought to enable, because ESA, Gateway and WSA could have really been one project, in another life…

      • AG says:

        From Amtraks documents on Gateway it seems they are advocating a #7 extension from Hudson Yards to Penn station (south). Their stated goal is connecting Penn and GCT. Now the question would be if that transfer were to become free (if that extension even happens). Also if these politicians are calling for free transfers within the boroughs – how does that work with people coming from the suburbs? Well with a smart system I guess a few more lines of computer code could coordinate all of that. A question would then be “fairness” in the fare system.

        • webster says:

          True…equity matters, which is why I categorically don’t favor a zone-based system for the subway.

          However, such a scheme makes sense for the commuter system, I think. I don’t know if $2.75 is the correct base, but if it begins there, I could see a zone based system that operates with a ceiling based on peak travel patterns. For instance, all trips originating on LIRR, in NYC, start at a $2.75 base and go up, depending on the origin-destination pairs. A Jamaica-Penn trip then costs more than a Jamaica-Atlantic Terminal trip (say, $5 vs $2.75, for the latter).

          This has the benefit of opening access to communities who might otherwise use the commuter lines, but don’t because it’s too expensive (the peak fare from Jamaica to Penn is $10) while still making it more attractive to transfer to the subway, especially if said transfer is free.

        • SEAN says:

          There’s NO reason why the new farecard system couldn’t be extended to Metro-North & LIRR since San Francisco’s http://www.clippercard.com does this on CalTrain & BART. The BART has turnstyles, but Caltrain is an open system with card validators on each platform & vending machines to sell the cards them selves.

          The issue isn’t a case of functionality, rather it’s one of scale & number of hands in the potsince you would need to consider transit riders not just those in lower NYS, but NJ & CT with there transit systems as well.

          • Christopher says:

            And BART has done that way before the Clipper Card. You could always use your monthly card on BART within in the city. Even in Oakland the travel between many its BART stations is all one fare zone.

        • Jeff says:

          Those from outside the boroughs still get a free transfer to the subway, and pay the cost difference when they transfer from the subway to the LIRR/MNR. They are already doing this with MTA express buses so its nothing new.

    • Josh says:

      Why can’t they make the trains longers?

  5. Jonathan R says:

    I don’t recall the question of missing revenue coming up in discussions about East Side Access, but assuming that half the 162,000 people who are forecasted to be using ESA instead of Penn Station will now walk directly to work instead of using the subway, that should cost the MTA $113 million in foregone Metrocard purchases. Perhaps that project should be put on ice as well.

    • AG says:

      People not using an additional service and people using a service for cheaper or free is not the same thing at all. False equivalency.

      • Jonathan R says:

        Are you suggesting that LI–East Side commuters will continue spending $116.50 on unlimited monthly metrocards once they can walk to work from the railroad terminal?

        My point is to show a previous instance where providing more convenient service trumped revenue considerations.

        • AG says:

          Again your point is not equivalent. The equivalent would have been more like saying LIRR riders who currently work on the East Side could now get free transfers to the subway. It’s not about losing revenue for sale of losing revenue. It’s about providing a service and either taking a significant cut to do so- or providing it for free. Not the same thing at all.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I’m sure some people will do exactly what you say, but the financial risk seems dubious to me.

          To me, this just takes pressure off some of the most crowded points on the subway. Should the 5-year growth rate in subway ridership hold steady, it could be expected to cause a ridership hit for the subway for about 1 years and 8 months before the loss is recovered.

  6. outside the box says:

    Fares for the city portion of the railroads can be only be discussed only after capacity is resolved.

    to resolve capacity and allow growth of the (dirty word) region:

    what is the fastest time for a train (with no other impeding trains ahead) for a train to run from:
    *Jamaica to Penn
    *Penn to Secauscus
    Jamaica to Secaucus with a stop at Penn

    If there are no reverse moves to deal with, tracks split in two at stations and dwell times are minimized by having more doors on each car and have the stations provide amply wide platforms on both sides of the cars what is the maximum # of trains per hour that a track could handle?

    Maybe in the grand scheme of things it is time for Jamaica and Secaucus to be converted into the terminals for NJ and the LIRR with only through service Amtrack trains stopping at Penn. Then have specially designed trains in 5+ sets of doors on each side of each car and standing room only, travel between Jamaica and Secaucus for a quick shuttle trip. At Penn have the track divide into to 2 tracks each served by a platforms on both sides.

    This would allowing:
    * the quickest egress from the trains (shorter commuting times even with the transfer)
    * the elimination of reversing directions at Penn which causes crossover conflicts reducing the potential capacity of the valuable river tunnels
    *allow more service on most/all branches of LIRR and NJT
    *allow through service between Jamaica and Secaucus
    *provide much enhanced commutes for nearby residents who can take buses (light rail?) to the two terminals.

    Building a second through shuttle between Secaucus to Hoboken to Wall Street to Atlantic Ave to Jamaica utilize the Atlantic Ave LIRR and Hoboken to Secaucus tracks with similar shuttle trains and track splitting at stations would further enhance this scheme as would having the #7 go to Secaucus.

    • ajedrez says:

      I think Newark Penn or Newark Broad would be a better terminal than Secaucus. A lot more jobs/educational centers, and of course, transfers to the buses/light rail lines out there. Secaucus is only useful to reach the Main/Bergen County/Pascack Valley lines.

  7. BrooklynBus says:

    Anyone old enough will remember how the NYCTA and even the BMT before them refused to institute universal free bus transfers for fifty years claiming a revenue loss they coudn’t afford so free bus transfers were based on ones agreed upon by the companies who ran them prior to the BMT.

    Finally, the MTA instituted add a ride and then guaranteeing one bus transfer and in rare cases more than one. Then came the cry for free bus subway transfers which the MTA also came up with a protected figure of lost revenue they coudn’t afford. Then they finally relented and even instituted weekly and monthly passes.

    Glad this is finally getting attention. I suggested long ago that in no case shoukd intra-city rail fares exceed express bus fares. Lowering the fare to the subway fare may be a bit too much. There should be a small premium to use the railroad.

    Also glad that the MTA is finally considering opening closed subway entrances whichi have also been pushing fr about three years. I think eventually both will happen because tey make sense and the MTA will eventally realize this.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      Lowering the MNRR and LIRR to subway fares within the city is not too much. The city has more than enough money to pay for this from the real estate taxes collected within city limits alone. It’s a way to reduce overcrowding on subways, and it would actually cause real estate long term to take off in areas served by the commuter trains.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        They would do this as well as other measures if they were a forward thinking agency instead of one that mostly reacts. What is obvious to most is not obvious to the MTA. Their first reaction to any suggestion is that it cannot be done, then later they change their mind. They initially were against air-conditioned trains, low floor buses, articulated buses and alternate fuel buses before relenting. 

        Take the obvious idea to reopen closed subway stations I recommended about three years ago. Now the MTA said they will study the idea which will probably take them between three and five years. 

        It took them up to 40 years to make about 15 bus route suggestions I thought of as far back as 1973. I know I won’t be alive by the time they realize my other 35 or so bus route changes are also good ideas. 

  8. tacony says:

    MNR/LIRR currently offer 3 fare tiers within the city: “peak” during rush hours, “off-peak” during weekday non-rush, and CityTicket on weekends.

    Why not just abolish the off-peak fare within the city and institute CityTicket on all non-peak trains? This would seem a good start and more reasonable than requiring that they match city transit fare straight off the bat.

    • AG says:

      Yes – makes sense. But politicians talking rarely make the most sense. It’s bigger headlines calling for the same fate as the subway. Rational people have been calling for “city ticket” prices for years. Hopefully it will become reality this time.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Not good enough. As long as there is any premium for riding commuter rail over the subway, it will not be part of an integrated transportation network. If it’s so important to rich suburbanites not to share their peak trains with city residents, the MTA could put a few first-class cars on each commuter train, with premium fares; it’s not common on commuter rail, but the Zurich S-Bahn does it and so do some of the longer-distance Tokyo commuter lines.

      Splitting it into peak and off-peak is also a nonstarter. The peak is when the most people are riding, which means it’s when mode-neutral fares with free transfers are the most important.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        Suburbanites are already paying premium fares.

      • Michael Finfer says:

        Isn’t the point of charging a premium for commuter rail over local transit to cut down on the numbers of short haul travelers on the commuter trains and to save that capacity for the suburban commuters, at least in areas where there is nearby transit service? It seems like a sensible way to distribute the capacity.

        To reduce the intracity commuter rail fares to the prevailing local transit fare would, as I said before, produce a flood of passengers that the system could not hope to handle.

        With that said, there are areas in the outlying boroughs where there are few are no nearby transit services or where they are slow enough to make a commute to Manhattan impractical. Would it not make sense to lower the fares on the commuter trains in those areas only? An open smart card fare collection system would make that practical, tapping in when you board and tapping out when you leave. That should make it difficult to game the system. It would not work with the current system of paper tickets since someone could simply purchase a less expensive ticket to St Albans and leave the train at Forest Hills.

        • Alon Levy says:

          No, it is very much not sensible. It splits the rail network into three fare-incompatible fiefs (five, if you also count PATH and NJT). New York does not charge higher fares for express subway lines than for local subway lines. It does not charge higher fares for subway lines that go farther into the Outer Boroughs than for subway lines that do not, for example the 2 versus the 3. It does not charge extra for long express runs, such as 125th-59th on the A/D or Forest Hills-Queens Plaza on the E. Nor does it charge higher fares for the subway than for buses; some US cities do, and the result is negative, in that it keeps poor people away from the subway, which then turns low-income community activists into opponents of transit expansion.

          There was never any discussion about the costs and benefits of splitting fares in any way, unless you count the elimination of premium fares on the Rockaways, which have always been a negligible proportion of subway ridership. The reason commuter rail has separate fares and no free transfers to the subway is that it descends from mainline railroad operations, and people from that tradition are stuck in the 1930s and think of themselves as special and more important than mere urban transit.

          Against that mentality, there is the more successful mentality that views mainline trains and subways as parts of the same urban rail network. In this mentality, subway and light rail expansions are to be undertaken where mainline rail is absent or overcrowded, and vice versa; stations should be sited for maximum transfer convenience; buses should feed all rail services; and fares and schedules should be integrated. No weirdness about lower commuter rail fares in St. Albans than in Forest Hills: just the same fares on all modes.

        • Nathanael says:

          “Isn’t the point of charging a premium for commuter rail over local transit to cut down on the numbers of short haul travelers on the commuter trains and to save that capacity for the suburban commuters, ”

          The suburban commuters are getting much larger government subsidies than the local transit users. MUCH larger. Why would we want to save capacity for the least profitable customers (who also happen to be the richest)? That makes no sense.

          See, when Amtrak has premium prices on some routes, they raise prices in order to save capacity for *more profitable* customers. that does make sense.

          But the situation here is that the *least profitable* customers are having capacity reserved for them through the fare system. What?

  9. BklynCommuter says:

    This may be a great time to explore a more universal fare payment in general, perhaps with buy-in from the many corporate headquarters located in the region. As large companies continue to shuffle staff between Brooklyn, Jersey City, Manhattan, etc. in search of cheaper office space, it would make sense for these companies to support a system in which commuters can switch from the NJT to the NYC subways and buses to the PATH to the MNR or LIRR as needed without having several different transit cards.

    Clearly, this is a dream scenario, but if we are considering intra-city railroad usage why not explore this option at the same time?

    • SEAN says:

      I don’t think it’s a dream at all. Corporate relocation insiders were pushing car dependent campuses for quite a wile, but now there has been a shift over the past decade & a half to move offices back to city centers even if that location is suburban such as Stamford CT. Along with that comes increasing transit usage & vitality in the city center.

      • AG says:

        Actually – Stamford is suffering (comparatively). They have shifted their focus back to attracting commuters (to NYC jobs) back to their downtown area. Aside from shifting jobs back to Manhattan (like UBS – who was the cream of their crop) – Jersey City has stolen their secondary market thunder. Now with the tax increase it makes it worse. Even suburban campus GE is planning to leave CT (apparently the top 3 choices are NYC – Westchester – Atlanta).

        • SEAN says:

          Yes, but GE is in Fairfield witch is no different than say PepsiCo in Purchase or At & T in Murry Hill. Now if GE were to move to Stamford as Starwood Hotels did a few years ago, then you got something tangible to work from.

          It’s all a matter of who gives out the biggest corporate welfare carrot.

          • AG says:

            Well yeah – I said GE was at a suburban campus… But no – they don’t plan on going to Stamford. They want out of Connecticut altogether. But no it’s not necessarily the largest tax reduction – if that was the case they might as well move every single job out of the northeast. Taxes and costs will always be lower in the south no matter the incentive.

            • SEAN says:

              I missed part of your above post about the GE campus before I posted – my bad.

              In the 70’s & 80’s, numerous corp campuses were built in Westchester along Westchester Avenue/ I-287 & other areas, but today many of them are half empty or worse & the city of white Plains hasn’t taken advantage by building new office spaces for the last two decades. They could do it if they got creative & assembled properties & pushed hard for new businesses to come. Besides access to Metro-North is a great insentive by it self.

              • AG says:

                Most of what is built in White Plains (around Metro North) is residential now too… Targeting the same people as Stamford. People who work in NYC an want luxury but can’t afford Manhattan.
                But yeah – the “Platinum Mile” off I287 looks more like dusty silver nowadays.

            • Duke says:

              GE Capital used to be located in Stamford, but they aren’t anymore.

              • AG says:

                Plus GE is getting out of the “capital” business altogether (selling it off) – just as they are getting out of Connecticut overall.

  10. John R says:

    If we’re sticking with our current fare system, then the new tracks along the NEC right of way should be for a subway that people in the eastern Bronx can actually afford. However, if we decide to actually rationalize our fare system, with a common zone-based fare structure for the subway, Metro-North, and the Long Island Rail Road, this change could easily coincide with a replacement MetroCard that can be used on all MTA services.

    However, a common fare structure would mean that LIRR/MNR fares would be reduced significantly, which would mean more riders on relatively infrequent trains. Running more trains would require more conductors, which are expensive as there’s several on each train. The solution is to run a higher density, more subway-like service along commuter rail tracks within New York City, akin to the London Overground, in addition to farther-reaching commuter services. Trains could run at 10-15 minute intervals, use FRA-compliant vehicles with one or two-person crews, and use either a penalty fare/fine system, a la SBS, or have ticket barriers at stations. The service could run from Manhattan all the way into the inner suburbs in Nassau County and Westchester, terminating in places such as White Plains and Mineola, where they would make timed connections with more commuter-type trains (as opposed to the more metro-like trains that this would us) continuing further outbound.

    This would make a lot of sense, as it would essentially be an extension of the subway without the investment.

    In addition, if Triboro RX ever happens, it could become a part of this “Overground” network, as this would be significantly more conducive to running freight trains than converting the whole right of way to a subway line.

  11. rustonite says:

    Boston already does this in part: commuter passes are good on commuter rail, subway, bus and FERRY ( :-p ). Regular tickets on the commuter rail do not transfer to other services, however, as a way to encourage people to buy the pass.

    Is NYC not able to handle something Boston already does? For shame!

  12. Kevin Walsh says:

    $20 peak roundtrip fare from Little Neck to Penn Station is too much. You can take a bus and train — both from one end of the line to another — for $5.50 daily, but that’s 3 hours commute.

    Most commuters who do the LIRR every day use a discounted monthly pass and various subsidies from workplaces, but for someone who does it frequently but not often enough for a monthly, there should be some relief.

  13. 22r says:

    As someone who spent years riding the rails in Germany before I ever spent much time in NYC… I was shocked and dismayed with disbelief at the condition and non-sensicalness of everything when I got here.

    • Douglas John Bowen says:

      Good thing you chose New York as opposed to many, many other locations, even urban ones, throughout the U.S.

      “Shocked and dismayed” certainly would be amplified in that case!

  14. Jeff says:

    IMO there’s no reason why more thought isn’t being put into this. It’s a common sense solution that should be cheaper to implement than any new subway line, and provides for tons of incentives to take cars off roads.

    Logistically it will be a challenge in terms of fares and capacity issues, and the fact that drastic changes need to be made in terms of how the LIRR/MNR operate, but that in and of itself would be a very much welcomed and long waited dialogue.

    The biggest challenge will probably be convincing (or subduing) the suburbanite LIRR and MNR riders who will probably not be happy about their rides being invaded by city people.

  15. Rob says:

    Fact is the commuter rails provide a higher and more costly class of svc than the subways/buses, and thus of course the fares should be higher! Seating and space standards, for example.

    • AG says:

      Very true. Not sure why that is not being thought of. It’s not like subways have bathroom cars or outlets at every seat like the new MNR trains. It should require some type of premium.

      • Duke says:

        The “premium” associated with the commuter rail lines stems in part from higher staffing levels. A subway train has a crew of no more than two, a commuter rail train usually has more. A better fare collection system could solve this problem.

        FRA compliance is also costly, but the MTA can’t control that.

        • AG says:

          I (we) referred to the riding experience itself. Cars/seats/amenities… As an aside – you are correct – in order to really make it work is the cars would have to be styled more like subway cars to have more standing passengers and the conductors would need to be gotten rid of. Then shorter trains could be run at more frequent intervals. That’s how it will be “more like Europe”. We shall see how long it takes for this to play out. It’s not as easy as changing the price of the ticket.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Future car orders shouldn’t optimize seating capacity the way the current equipment does, but gutting the interior to change the seating arrangement is a waste of money, and refusing to equalize the fares before the interiors are gutted is a bad excuse. In Zurich, the commuter trains have nicer seats than the trams, and have bathrooms. The fares are still mode-neutral. Even intercity trains will take local passengers if they make multiple stops in the urban area, e.g. between Zurich Hbf and the airport. The regular urban transit ticket doesn’t include a seat reservation, so you have to stand if there are no available seats, but if there are seats, you can sit. Contrast that with Amtrak, which checks tickets at South Station and won’t let commuter rail riders ride it to Back Bay, let alone to Providence.

    • Jeff says:

      They don’t have to. Run a train with first class/second class cars as suggested above, charge a premium for the first class car and let the others crowd into the rest of the train like they do in Switzerland. If the airlines can cut service to let more people use it, so can commuter railroads. The key is to get people where they need to go for a price they can afford, and all of the public benefit from the cars removed from roads and the increase productivity of people not having to be stuck in a 2 hr bus/subway ride

    • BDawe says:

      If commuter rail is a ‘premium service’ then why are the public being asked to chip in tens of billions for ‘luxury’ infrastructure and 50-60% of the operating costs? Affluent suburbanites should pay for their own damn trains if they aren’t going to be for everyone, especially when that ‘for everyone’ is the relatively cost-less allowance for urbanites to stand for a few stops.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        If they have to pay 100 percent they are going to start to ask why the subway doesn’t. Or the buses.

        • BDawe says:

          To pay for overstaffing, redundant signalling, unsupervised contractors, antiquated equipment maintenance, overpadded contracts, plain ol’ corruption and patronage, and other failures.

          But at least the subway isn’t pretending it has any business providing luxury transportation on the public dime.

        • AG says:

          Yes – you are correct. I guess because I’m from the business world but happen to love and understand the importance of transit – why my mindset is different. I see people just make flippant statements – without seeming to understand nothing happens in a vacuum. Every cause has an effect. Sure a lot of things would be great – but NY isn’t Paris or Berlin. Different cultures – different structures etc.
          I mean it’s as easy as saying – ask all the poor people to pay London Underground prices. Anytime I read anyone say “all you have to do is” – I shake my head. There are a myriad of competing interests. The US isn’t totalitarian like China. Nor did it suffer the destruction Europe did in the 1940’s. Every thing is different – including the mindsets.

          • Nathanael says:

            ” Every thing is different – including the mindsets.”

            It’s true, the US has more mentally deranged lunatics running around, and particularly in positions of influence, than most countries in Europe or Asia do. “Different mindsets” indeed — more crazy.

  16. Roger says:

    If we lower the fare and build a couple of more stations between 125th street and GCT, do we even need second avenue subway?

    • MF says:

      There are already stations at 59th, 72nd, and 86th.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Yes, very much so. Two reasons:

      1. The bulk of the population density on the Upper East Side and East Harlem is east of Third Avenue. SAS serves it better than both the Lex and Metro-North.

      2. SAS curves west to serve Times Square, providing a one-seat ride from the UES and East Harlem to West Midtown and a two-seat ride to the Upper West Side.

      For similar reasons, I do not think this network is a substitute for SAS Phases 3 and 4.

      • Nathanael says:

        Worth remembering that before it was all ripped out during the Transit Holocaust, there were local stations on what is now Metro-North AND there was a 2nd Avenue El AND there was a 3rd Avenue El.

        Even the SAS + local stations on Metro North will give us less capacity than there was in the 1920s.

  17. Duke says:

    This is an EXCELLENT idea, one that in a sane world would have been implemented decades ago. Although, the concerns about capacity are valid.

    I’d propose that at minimum the LIRR would want to increase service on the Port Washington Branch, perhaps with extra trains short turning at Great Neck since the line goes to single track after that point. Rebuilding the former stations at Elmhurst and Corona would be great to compliment this effort as well, but not required on day one.

    Likewise, it would make sense for Metro-North to run some extra trains short-turning at Mount Vernon West, although this would need to be restricted to off-peak only since there is no spare capacity during rush hour. Also definitely some opportunities to add stations in The Bronx if this were done.

  18. BDawe says:

    I’m a little surprised by Prendergast’s opposition. Why, he should be able to recall that little 8 stop 5-a-day scoot that used to be under his remit in Vancouver that had had free transfers to buses and subways and somehow managed to fund it’s own operating costs from rider fares, unlike anything in the rigidly enfeoffed MTA.

    • AG says:

      I don’t have the answer – but serious question… What is Vancouver (and Toronto and Montreal’s) relationship to their Canadian and provincial governments? I don’t just mean for transit – but for every budget item. I’m pretty sure it’s different. For instance I LOVE Toronto. Toronto has some high taxes. I mean are New Yorkers ready to pay 13% sales tax???? I mean Toronto – in spite of the cold enjoys better quality of life than most U.S. cities…. But that doesn’t mean the culture anywhere in the U.S. “wants to be Toronto”. That’s just reality. This was a nation really founded on a dislike of taxation – forget the representation part…

      • JJJJ says:

        Well Toronto has a very famous crack smoking anti-tax mayor.

        • AG says:

          And that has zero to do with the quality of life… Vancouver didn’t have one as far as I know – but they have much bigger drug problems than Toronto. One has nothing to do with the other.

          • BDawe says:

            It does, just in the other direction.

            The election of Rob Ford was driven in part by the perception that ‘Downtown Elites’ were trying to make it more difficult for them to use their cars, and proposing a b-grade replacement for them in the form of surface light rail. “The People Want Subways” was one of Ford’s more noted slogans.

      • Bdawe says:

        The Federal Government is proportionately much less important to Canadian fiscal federalism, and the Provinces combined spend more money than Ottawa. Federal involvement in transit projects is usually limited to cutting cheques for minority funding shares, without the extended and expensive process that the FTA insists on, so you don’t get effects resulting from ‘Transportation Secretary likes streetcars’ or ‘transportation secretary likes BRT’.

        Local governments have never had their own sales taxes in Canada, though there was an attempt to set one up to fund transit expansion in Vancouver that went down to defeat in 2015, instead relying on transfers from senior governments, property tax rates (which tend to be lower than in the US) and development levies.

        To note, I believe GO Transit in Toronto has an 80% farebox ratio, and their infrastructure hasn’t required any MTA grade capital expenditures. The US, particularly New York reveal themselves willing to spend plenty of money on their transit, they just don’t get much back to show for it when you’re spending $11 billion on ESA and $20 billion on Gateway. It’s like US healthcare – The American public spent (pre-Obamacare too) as much or more money per capita on tax-funded healthcare as the Canadian public, but the Canadian public covers everyone while the equivalent US spending only covers old people, poor people, veterans, kidneys, and public employees.

        • AG says:

          Thanks… Yes – I’m aware of the healthcare issues. Canada also doesn’t have mortgage interest deductions but their home-ownership rate is about the same. It’s two different worlds. Your explanation of transit only furthers that.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The West Coast Express is the sole exception to Vancouver’s mode-neutral fares! It’s more expensive to ride it between Coquitlam and Waterfront than it is to ride a bus (or SkyTrain, when the Evergreen Line opens).

      • BDawe says:

        True, but I was referring to it’s easy 180 minute transfer to first/last mile services that supports higher usage.

        The fare gap in Vancouver is much less substantial than Long Island, it would seem. It’s 20 minutes from Jamaica to Penn, and 25 from Port Moody to Waterfront by commuter train. Both about 22 km as the car drives. The E Train costs $2.75 and the 160 Bus costs between $2.10 and $5.50, with both taking 40-50 minutes. The LIRR costs between $7.25 & $16.00 while the WCE costs between $6.05 and $7.25

        A peak traveler who purchases his or her tickets in advance in New York will pay 365% of the subway fare($10/$2.75), while our traveler in Vancouver will only pay 145% of the bus fare ($6.05/$4.20). And our New York travelers are going to have to pay even more at the far end if he or she wants to get anywhere not within walking distance of Penn Station.

        So arguably our Port Moody train travelers are paying reletively close to a mode-neutral fare, with all the benefits of transferability, along with a small addfare that ensures that their ‘premium travel experience’ is not a burden upon the ratepayer, and the inherent expense of peak-only rail service

        • Alon Levy says:

          The little premium makes all the difference – it turns WCE into a premium service. Together with the shit frequency, it results in shit ridership: 11,000 per day, versus 70,000 projected for the slower Evergreen Line.

          The difference is that Vancouver can’t increase frequency much – there are no good locations for infill stops for short-hop ridership, and it’s a freight mainline for CP. In contrast, the LIRR and Metro-North have trivial freight service, as do most NJ Transit lines.

          • BDawe says:

            I have trouble believing that all that many more people would ride the WCE had it mode-neutral fares. Per the 2011 National Household Survey, the Tri-Cities, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Mission to Vancouver commuter market was only 24,000 people. Reckoning for the fact that many people in those areas don’t live near a WCE station or don’t work Downtown or near the Canada Line or don’t work WCE-convenient hours, it should be apparent that the WCE is capturing not insignificant mode-share between origin and destination points.

            The projection that the Millenium Line extension should pull seven times as much ridership would seem to have much more to do with the fact that the Millenium Line comes every five minutes or better all day, has more stops, serves more destinations, travels in both directions, and so forth, rather than quibbling over $1.65 in additional fares.

            I think the point to be drawn from this is that strict mode-neutrality isn’t the be-all-end-all of an integrated transportation system. But it certainly points to the importance of ease-of-transfer and coordination between modes, and I certainly wouldn’t argue for punitive city fares.

  19. DF says:

    Out of curiosity: Do the people who think that obviously LIRR/MNR fares within the city should be equal to the subway fare also think that obviously Amtrak should charge the same for Trenton-NYC as NJ Transit does?

    • Eric says:

      Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure.

      The difference is that NYC subway lines are overcrowded and some way of un-crowding them would be a great benefit to the city. The LIRR/MNR rail lines already exist, they are just not being used to their full capacity. But people won’t switch to them if the price is three times the subway price.

      Perhaps LIRR/MNR prices could be kept the same and new trains, with subway fares, could be run on the same tracks and stations within city limits. Similarly, if there is demand for it NJ Transit could run express Trenton-NYC trains at the same fare as its other trains.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        Metro North wants to run trains to Penn Station because they can’t run more trains through the Park Avenue Tunnels. The LIRR wants to run trains to Grand Central because they can’t run more to Penn Station. Hollis to Brooklyn, Little Neck to Long Island City and Wakefield to Yankee Stadium, the places they might be able to run more trains, isn’t particularly useful.

        • Jeff says:

          As talked about briefly above… There’s a very simple way to increase capacity drastically. Convert the cars to NYC subway car standards, ie remove the comfy cushioned seats with plenty of arm space and leg room and institute subway style bench seating.

          An M7 car is 85 feet long and can only hold about 100 seated passengers and not many more standing while a 60-foot long R160 car can hold almost 250 seating+standing (which, if proportioned out to a 85 foot length equates to about 350 people per car)

          If they do drop the price of the LIRR they will need to drop the level of luxury, and that’s a simple way they can do that.

          • AG says:

            Yes the words and concepts are simple… The reality is not. The suburban commuters won’t want to give up their cushy seats and their nice views and their charging ports. Anyone who thinks that will be easily wrested away just isn’t being serious.

            • fair says:

              people bought houses in the suburbs based on a certain balance of :
              *house price
              *quality of life
              *cost of commute
              *time of commute
              *quality of commute

              the same is true of those in the outer boros. To now take from the suburbanites to give to those in the city may not be fair.

              any change should be gradual over the long term.

              • Alon Levy says:

                It’s not the job of the MTA to safeguard people’s real estate investments. It’s its job to provide maximally efficient transportation access for the maximal number of people.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  As if this is a problem. Really, if you rapid transitify the commuter railroads, you get some happy medium between subway capacity and denser seating for suburbanites. You also get more frequency.

                  Suburbanites win. Suburbanites’ investments win. Urban dwellers win. Urban investments win.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    That’s largely true, but the middle class seeks exclusion and hates the poor more than it loves itself. (See also first-world immigration policy – it’s a win-win, but the first-worlders want to keep the third-worlders out more than anything.)

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I suppose railroad users, the loud ones anyway, in this region always had this high-earning white middle management chauvinism. Luckily it’s safe to ignore them, since they’ll probably still need to use the railroad to get to work.

                      I’m no fan of middle class hegemony, but I don’t know if they’re all that bad, and Long Island has probably been becoming more diverse and open, though also maybe poorer.

                    • AG says:

                      It has zero to do with race. There is a reason why persons of any race will leave “the hood” once they make a certain income. I personally know people of every race – and income level who refuse to take public transportation because “it’s too crowded”.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Plenty don’t take it because they like to drive or something, but plenty also hate the idea of having to share space with people who don’t look like them. It’s arguably more a class thing than a race thing, but to say it has zero to do with race is woefully naive.

    • Alon Levy says:

      No, but only because Amtrak uses tilting trains. On non-tilting trains, absolutely, every person with a valid commuter rail ticket should be allowed to board an intercity train on the same route, but without a seat reservation; they can sit only if there are seats available. On tilting trains, the problem is that if there are too many passengers on the train, then they’re too heavy to tilt safely. (Okay, the Acelas are too heavy even without passengers, but that’s a maintenance cost problem and not a safety problem.) In Germany, tilting trains have to constantly monitor their own weight, and if there are too many passengers they have to disable the tilt mechanism and run more slowly.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        I’m old enough to remember when any coach ticket was good on any coach. Not sitting is unenforceable. Or lots of seats wander around empty.

      • DF says:

        But maybe Amtrak should not (in Alon’s ideal world) use tilting trains to begin with. If it is a bad idea to have carriers charge a premium price in exchange for increased speed and comfort, why is it suddenly OK for Amtrak to do that through the mechanism of having tilted trains?

        Note that I am not saying that every difference in speed and comfort should be priced, only that there are pros and cons of doing so and these may have different weight and give a different answer on different scales or under different initial conditions etc.

        By the way I haven’t even asked whether in a world of “rationalized” fares one would expect Amtrak and Greyhound to charge the same between Washington and NYC, but only because I think that is getting a bit far afield. I don’t think it is completely irrelevant though.

        • Alon Levy says:

          You’re missing something important: on intercity high-speed trains, there are legitimate technical reasons to want to limit passenger density. If the axle load exceeds 17 t, then tilting becomes problematic. Even non-tilting trains start causing serious damage to the tracks above that threshold, which is supposedly the reason why the TGVs are all-reserved. (That said the costs are pretty low and it’s more a matter of TGV/TER turf wars than of legitimate technical needs.)

          For Amtrak’s needs, tilting is a significant time saver. Amtrak should be looking at such rolling stock as E5/E6/N700 Shinkansen Talgo AVRILs, and souped-up Pendolini. The Shinkansen trains have low enough axle loads that they can and do run unreserved coaches, but the Talgos have high axle load because it has just a single axle between two cars rather than a multi-axle bogie. The Pendolini are well below 17 t, but seem to be getting heavier with each iteration, and the ICE-T (which has the same tilt mechanism) does have to slow down if there are too many passengers. If there’s a “must be able to take unreserved passengers” requirement in the technical documents, then 1-2 potential trains are no longer possible, and this means either slower, non-tilting equipment, or a Shinkansen one-bid contract.

          This is not the situation the LIRR is in. The LIRR’s rolling stock can and does accommodate standees. There is no technical reason for trains to run with a large crowd of standees in the inner urban segments and then thin out to every passenger having a seat in the suburbs. This is pure turf war.

          • adirondacker12800 says:

            And a whole lot of empty seats between Trenton and DC or Richmond and a whole lot of empty seats between New Haven and Boston.

          • DF says:

            Amtrak has made decisions in purchasing (tilted trains) and pricing that improve speed and comfort for its passengers at the expense of potential customers who are priced out.

            LIRR has made decisions in purchasing (trains with limited standee room) and pricing that improve speed and comfort for its passengers at the expense of potential customers who are priced out.

            It is possible that the former passes some sort of cost-benefit test while the latter does not. What you say about the rolling stock available on the market is relevant in that regard. But labeling the former decision “technical” is irrelevant to that discussion. The fact that the LIRR’s reasons for not wanting X extra people on each car on each train from Penn to Jamaica are not “technical” ones is not relevant to whether they are valid or sufficiently important.

            • Alon Levy says:

              You’re still making a wrong analogy. If the LIRR lets more people use it, then there will be more standees, and the only negative effects are on the standees themselves. If passengers think it’s too crowded, then they can keep not riding. (As it happens, most RER trains have limited standing room as well, and are as a result overcrowded near the doors.) In contrast, if operators of tilting trains let more people use them, then there will be a large rise in trip time.

              Of note, the LIRR’s decision does not improve speed at all. On the contrary: dwell times on the LIRR are, for reasons I don’t quite understand, considerably higher than on international regional rail networks with level boarding, about 40 seconds on average at minor stations vs. 20-30.

              Comfort is neither here nor there. Seating on the LIRR is unreserved, and rush hour trains have standees. The LIRR’s pricing does not follow a “limit the number of standees” rule; it follows a “don’t mix in city residents” rule.

    • mister says:

      MetroLink’s Rail2Rail program allows exactly what is being suggested here. Orange and Ventura County line passengers can also ride on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner.

  20. mister says:

    Commuter rail should be priced at CityTicket Fares during all times. Yes, the subway will still be cheaper, but the fact that it’s substantially faster than the subway will encourage people to ride it.

    As for capacity, the easy fix is, as mentioned by others, cars with reduced seating. Possibly not down to the level of subway seating, but maybe with fewer seats in each row.

    The more substantial fix involves abolishing the separation of vehicle types by mode. In Cleveland, Heavy rail metro shares trackage with light rail. Having commuter rail that could share tracks with subway could dramatically expand subway style travel options in north and eastern queens as well as eastern bronx. There are hurdles to overcome (the varying platform heights are one), but the waiver granted to Denton, TX to operate Stadler railcars is a step in the right direction.

    • adirondacker12800 says:

      How many subway trains are you going to cancel so commuter trains can run on the subway tracks?

    • Alon Levy says:

      The waiver granted to Denton is about different regulatory regimes, and not different loading gauges and platform interfaces. In the early 20th century, there was routine through-service from the LIRR to the BRT (later BMT); the LIRR had low platforms at the time, so the cars were built to subway standards. This ended when the ICC banned this practice in the 1910s. In contrast, through-service between two rapid transit lines with different platform heights did not happen: Boston switched the Tremont Street Subway from low platforms and streetcar through-service in 1901 to high platforms and el through-service, and then back to low platforms and streetcars in 1908, as the el got its own subway under Washington.

      For Eastern Queens and the North Bronx, the right way is to run the same commuter rail cars that run today, but at higher frequency in the off-peak, and with more stopping trains at the peak. And, for fuck’s sake, rationalize the fares.

      • mister says:

        The waiver in Denton is about getting one regulatory regime (in this case, the FRA) to recognize that safety isn’t about designing a railcar that can plow through whatever it hits; Chatsworth taught us that’s a pointless endeavor anyway. However, it would factor in here because it would allow the design of a much lighter weight railcar which could work in the subway environment that would still be allowed to operate on FRA governed trackage further out.

        Loading Gauge is the easiest thing to tackle from a technical perspective. Ideally a through run service is going to be one that has a loading gauge that mimics subway service. Platform heights are a bit more tricky, because while the LIRR has high platforms now, I think there’s a height difference between the LIRR’s platforms and NYCT’s.

        I wholeheartedly agree that the first step in this process is running the same commuter cars more frequently, and lowering the fare. The lowest hanging fruit for such a system is northern and eastern Queens, where the Port Washington Branch and the Atlantic Branch east of Jamaica provide service to areas where a sizable portion of the residents take slow bus rides to end of line terminals on crowded subway lines. Even at a price point moderately higher than a base subway fare, regular commuter service might lure more people onto the trains. Ideally, this would be combined with a free transfer, much like the subway/bus combo that exists today.

        The next logical step is to connect the 2 systems and allow some of the trains to share trackage. Through service from these lines would effectively extend the subway network at a an order of magnitude less than what brand new lines would cost. There are a number of places where such connections make sense and would not be terribly difficult to build.

        • Alon Levy says:

          The gap between the IRT and the BMT loading gauges is wide enough (15″/38 cm) that they don’t run through-trains in service. The BMT-mainline gap is another 8″/20 cm, and the platform heights are if I remember correctly 6″ apart.

          Also, I’m staring at pretty compelling evidence that at a price point that’s even slightly different from the subway’s, without free transfers, people won’t take the service. Stop trying to segment the market; there isn’t enough train service anywhere, even in Tokyo, for it to be worth the hit to each class’s effective frequency.

          • mister says:

            Sorry, last night I was thinking about loading guidelines, not loading gauge. Still, a 4″ gap between platform and train when operating in commuter territory is not insurmountable. There are definitely ways to fix the issue, including the differing platforms heights that, still, are far cheaper than building a separate line, and would probably attract more riders than service that only goes to one station within the CBD.

            I do think free transfers should be included in the fare for a commuter rail based service, but I don’t see how it becomes a disincentive when it is generally being provided in areas where there is no subway service. If express buses can attract passengers at a price point that is more than double a base fare, then offering a “CityTicket Plus” which grants a free transfer and shaves off 20-30 minutes off a commute that typically takes over an hour should attract significant ridership. In areas where subway service already does exist, I don’t know that offering riders an alternative that chokes off capacity for riders coming from further out is the best use of infrastructure.

            • adirondacker12800 says:

              People work ( and shop and go to the doctor etc. ) places other than Penn Station.

              • mister says:

                I agree, which is why I am suggesting that a new rail service operate on both LIRR branch territory and then serve a trunk line in Manhattan, as well as offer a free transfer.

                • adirondacker12800 says:

                  Every train can’t go everywhere. Which one should go where?

                  • mister says:

                    There are 2 common sense connections that could be made.

                    The first is in Queens, at the 63rd street Tunnel. The Upper level already has provisions for a connection to the never built Super Express, so connecting this to the 6 track LIRR mainline should not be terribly difficult. Once connected, you could operate the inner section of the Port Washington Branch as a rapid transit line that then connects to the 63rd tunnel and runs down either 6th on Broadway. This provides ‘subway’ service to areas of northern Queens that presently lack such service.

                    The other common sense connection is in Downtown Brooklyn, where the Atlantic Branch could be connected to Montague (or really, the whole DeKalb complex). Once that’s done, Rapid Transit Service could be extended out to eastern Queens beyond Jamaica along existing ROWs (Atlantic or Montauk) out to the Nassau county border.

                    Those are the two most sensible connections. I guess you could pick your branch that connects to it at the end of the day (esp at 63rd), but it provides Rapid Transit style service at a much lower cost than building new lines.

                    • adirondacker12800 says:

                      Which Q trains and which F trains get canceled to so that LIRR trains can go through the tunnels instead?
                      DeKalb is congested with existing subway services, which of those do you cancel to run LIRR trains through there?

                    • mister says:

                      No Q or F trains get cancelled. There is room on both trunk lines for more trains. If SAS Phase III ever gets built, this becomes even more true.

                      You also don’t need to cancel any services through DeKalb, since the 4th Ave Local/Montague Tunnel tracks are well below capacity.

                    • adirondacker12800 says:

                      Which is it? If the subway is underutilized so much that LIRR trains can run on it or the subway is so overcroweded that we need to run LIRR trains on it? It can’t be both.

                    • mister says:

                      I made neither claim. I suggested that to provide better service to areas of the city that presently have no rapid transit style rail services, a hybrid system that runs at a relatively high frequency operating on commuter rail lines while further out but on subway trackage closer in would serve to provide this service at a much lower cost than building new lines. In the 1930s, 50s and 70s, various proposals were put forward to extend subway service to areas that presently lack it in Northern and Eastern Queens. None of these proposals ever got very far because the cost spiraled out of control. Utilizing our existing infrastructure better could serve to cover these areas with trains that operate every 8-12 minutes and provide service to multiple destination points, including multiple transfer hubs.

                      Furthermore, it is impossible to paint “the subway” with a single broad brushstroke. Is the subway overcrowded? Sure, in some places. The Queens Boulevard line is packed with trains, which is why I didn’t suggest a simple connection of the E line to the Atlantic or Montauk branches east of Jamaica (even though that might still work). The Cranberry tubes have no more room for extra trains either, and the Gold Street Interlocking is probably near what it can handle. The IRT mainline is packed too, although it also has an untapped capacity in the southern end of its local lines. But that doesn’t mean that other lines don’t have spare capacity to add extra trains if we wanted to provide new services. This is especially true in the case of the 63rd street connector, which currently only hosts 15 trains per hour, while all of the other connections between Manhattan and Queens operate at least 10 tph more than this. The problem that hampers 63rd is that the line it feeds into on the Queens side has capacity issues. If you could connect it to something else on the Queens side, then there is a lot more room to add trains. Check out the 1968 program for action, and some of the proposals to do just that (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_for_Action).

                      Before proposals are put forward to build new lines, we have to understand what we’ve already got. Can a relatively simple connection serve to increase your capacity? That’s what the 11th st cut, Chrystie St and the 63rd st connector accomplished. On the other hand, there are likely other areas where providing a lower fare on existing commuter rail could potentially reduce crowding on adjacent subway lines (Queens Boulevard and Lexington come to mind). Each problem has to be looked at individually.

                    • adirondacker12800 says:

                      It’s not 1968 anymore.

                      What does this mean?

                      mister says:
                      November 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm

                      No Q or F trains get cancelled. There is room on both trunk lines for more trains. If SAS Phase III ever gets built, this becomes even more true.

                    • mister says:

                      Of course it’s not 1968 anymore, but transit hasn’t changed much in those areas, and the need for new lines in those areas never went away, just the political will to fund them.

                      “What does this mean?”

                      I don’t understand what you’re asking here that hasn’t already been explained. Could you elaborate?

            • Alon Levy says:

              Still, a 4? gap between platform and train when operating in commuter territory is not insurmountable.

              First: 7″, not 4″. You need to take into account the margin between the platform and the mainline loading gauge. The standard calls for 5′ 7″ separation from track centerline to platform. It’s pretty easy to arrange using retractable extenders on the train (not on the platforms); European trains often have these, since the loading gauges vary a lot, leading to large horizontal train-platform gaps, but it requires new rolling stock, not just subway cars. This would be best used on commuter trains that run on routes that host oversize freight or have curved platforms, e.g. a lot of the MBTA system.

              But the big problem is the vertical gap, not the horizontal gap. Wheelchair accessibility is nonnegotiable, and New York City Transit is already violating the ADA with existing gaps between subway trains ant platforms.

              If express buses can attract passengers at a price point that is more than double a base fare…

              …but they don’t, really. The busiest express buses in the city get 6,000 weekday riders; the total for all express NYCT and MTA Bus routes is 75,000, vs. 2,450,000 on the local routes. They also have poor farebox recovery, despite the high fares, because they typically travel longer distances, so the fare per km isn’t so high, and are very peaky, so drivers don’t get a lot of revenue hours but still get paid.

              • mister says:

                I meant an additional 4″, but thanks for explaining the full scope of the gap. As you mention, there are ways of dealing with this. Even the vertical difference can be addressed, as there are vehicles that serve platforms of varying heights. Whether it is through some kind of current method, or through a new technology (kneeling train?), it’s possible to address.

                A pure express bus to local bus ridership comparison tells us very little. You list a plethora of other reasons why express bus ridership is much lower: peak direction CBD-centric service and relatively low coverage. A regularly scheduled commuter-rapid transit hybrid service avoids these problems.

                A more accurate comparison might be comparing WMATA Metro and bus service, where most Metro Rail trips are much more costly than a corresponding bus trip that could be made. Yet Metro Rail has higher ridership than the bus system does. Metro provides a different service than the local buses do, and a commuter rail based rapid transit system would provide a different service than existing options, encouraging ridership through providing a better service than what exists now.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  Even the vertical difference can be addressed, as there are vehicles that serve platforms of varying heights.

                  Not with level boarding.

                  • mister says:

                    Hence my kneeling train comment.

                  • mister says:

                    So if I understand correctly, your argument here is that it works on a Bi Level train that has to build an intermediate level to serve high level platforms, but it could not work on a train that has to negotiate a 6″ platform difference? I disagree with that position.

                    For whatever it’s worth, documentation I can find suggests that floor height on the Metropolitans (M1/M3 railcars) was 48″, while NYCT car floor heights are at 45.5″. That’s a lot less than 6″. But even if it really is the 6″ that you’ve mentioned, on a 75′ car that could easily be negotiated by building a car with two center doors that meet NYCT’s level boarding height and two end doors that meet LIRR’s. The R68 has 4′-2″ doors, with 18’2.25″ between door center lines. That leaves 14′ between the doors. If the floor were pitched to gain/lose the 6″ needed, that’s a 1:28 slope. If it’s only the 2.5″ mentioned above, it’s approx 1:68.

                    If the answer to our problems is that we can only do what’s been done before, then we are going to have trouble coming up with effective solutions that don’t cost a lot of money, particularly when ADA gets involved.

  21. Nathanael says:

    ““This year we will lose $575 million on unreimbursed paratransit service”

    Offensive bigotry from the MTA’s spokesperson.

    “Unreimbursed paratransit service” is the MTA’s punishment for refusing to OBEY THE LAW by making the subway stations accessible. And NYC’s punishment for refusing to OBEY THE LAW by making the taxis accessible.

    If they’d been DOING THEIR DAMN JOB the paratransit costs would have evaporated by now.

    • TimK says:

      If they’d been DOING THEIR DAMN JOB the paratransit costs would have evaporated by now.

      It’s not that simple, because there will always be people who are unable to use the subway system on their own no matter how accessible it’s made.

      I understand your point, and the attempt to imply that transporting differently abled people is not the MTA’s responsibility is rather tasteless, but I think you overstated your case a bit.

  22. Tom says:

    Let me get this straight. Parts of NYC are “transit deserts” because they lack subways (although they do have bus service). To remedy this, LIRR and M-N should cut fares for all trips wholly within NYC to match the subway.

    Fine! But then let’s apply the same logic to the suburbs, like Westchester County (which is more of a “transit desert” than any place in NYC).

    Westchester pays the same MTA taxes as NYC (actually it pays more, since Westchester pays MTA sales tax on clothing, but NYC doesn’t), but Westchester gets zero subway or even bus service from the MTA. (Westchester’s buses, the “Bee Line”, get zero MTA subsidy.)

    So if an off-peak Wakefield–GCT fare (a 13-mile trip) is cut from $6.50 to $2.75, it only seems fair that a Mount Kisco–North White Plains trip (also 13 miles) be cut from $5.50 to that same $2.75.

    Does everybody here agree?

    • Alon Levy says:

      Absolutely. The high fares on short trips within the suburbs are a travesty and, in addition to poor job connectivity and low frequency, ensure few people ride the train except to Manhattan. Under a good zonal system, people who ride long distances into the CBD pay more, but people who ride short of the CBD do not.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I take the “transit desert” concept is based on the “food desert” concept.

      Not sure who, but somebody made the point awhile ago that the food desert is actually more like a food swamp. There is food around, usually, but it’s shitty.

      That’s kind of how I feel the typical transit desert is. Usually there is a local bus or something, but service tends to be awful and it likely brings you to some remote part of a train line to complete your inbound journey.

  23. ajedrez says:

    A lot of points I was about to bring up have been said already, but I’ll say it anyway.

    * The commuter rail system should be integrated into the SmartCard system the MTA is rolling out. It’ll save money on labor costs (all the conductors collecting the tickets) that can be reapplied towards expanding service.

    * I believe that intra-city trips into the CBD should be priced at the express bus fare. Intra-city trips within the outer boroughs should be priced at the local fare, and in both cases, free transfers should be offered (you could take a lot of pressure off the local bus system, and probably save some money on operating costs by encouraging people to switch to the commuter rail for those trips. A 30 minute bus ride turns into a 10 minute rail trip).

    * Ideally, off-peak service would run every 15 minutes at major stations, and every 30 minutes at lesser-used stations (all the way Hicksville & Babylon). That way, it reduces the time penalty for missing the train if you didn’t have your card ready.

    * Of course, the free transfers should apply to the suburban bus systems as well.

  24. Tom says:

    Metro-North’s cash fare between any point in the Bronx and Manhattan is $6.50 ($8.75 at rush hour). Since express bus fare is $6.50 at all times, Metro-North is already at the express bus fare most of the time.

    And if you purchase multiple rides, Metro-North off-peak fares are actually lower than express bus fares. MetroCard’s 11% “Bonus” (actually a 9% discount) cuts the express bus fare to $5.86, but Metro-North vending machines sell off-peak 10-trip tickets even cheaper at $5.53 a trip.

    And, as long as we’re discussing the express bus fare, MTA fare boxes (on premium-fare Express buses, at least) should begin accepting paper money. It is ridiculous to expect a one-time rider to produce 26 quarters to pay for one ride. Almost every other US bus system accepts paper money in fare boxes. The MTA should, too.

    • AG says:

      Yeah – lower it to “City Ticket” prices all times except rush hour… In rush hour make if equal to express buses.

    • mister says:

      Metro-North might be at express bus fares, but consider that express buses generally go more places than their commuter rail equivalents: NYCT express buses don’t all go to a terminal that serves one area like MNRR or LIRR. Also, express buses get most of their ridership during peak hours, so the fact that MNRR is higher during peak hours is not an insignificant issue. Finally, one would hope that a heavy rail vehicle is going to be a lot more efficient at carrying passengers. Express buses cost a lot because each passenger is traveling a lot of vehicle miles. It’s going to be a stretch to ask a passenger to pay express bus fare for a relatively short intra-borough hop (i.e. – Woodlawn to Melrose).

      • AG says:

        Why would you sit around and wait for the Metro North to go from Woodlawn to Melrose? I mean if you can’t walk to the 2 or the 4 train from that spot – the city might as well just extend SBS all the way up Webster Ave. all the way up to the Yonkers line…

        • adirondacker12800 says:

          There’s a cliff on the west side or Webster Ave. And those pesky Metro North train down at the bottom of the cliff.

          • AG says:

            What does that have to do with SBS? SBS already runs on Webster Ave. Point is if someone can’t walk to the 2 or 4 – the city might as well extend SBS all the way up.

        • mister says:

          You might do it if Metro-North offered service every 15 minutes.

          • AG says:

            And which would cost more? I mean I advocated running the S-A-S back up to The Bronx to replace that old 3rd Ave El that used to run along that corridor up Webster to Gun Hill Road where it met the White plains Rd. line. Metro North every 15 min wouldn’t be as effective… So for me if the money isn’t going to be spent for that – might as well be S-B-S which already runs of Webster.

            • mister says:

              There’s no question that the MNRR option costs more. I was only using the Woodlawn-Melrose trip as an example of a trip someone might take on a system that offers Metro-North service to more points than just along the Harlem line. If you’re on Fulton St in Brooklyn, there’s no doubt that it’s cheaper to move customers between Nostrand Ave and Lafayette Ave by bus, but if the line also goes elsewhere (as the Fulton line does), then it starts to make sense to use it for shorter trips too.

      • Tom says:

        FWIW, the Melrose-Woodlawn trip on Metro-North is essentially already at subway fare levels (although without free transfers or frequent service).

        The single-ride cash fare is $3 on both subway and M-N, and the multi-ride discount brings the fare down to $2.48 (subway) or $2.55 (M-N). These M-N fares are good on all trains, even rush-hour.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Going by that comparison, multi-ride subway passes probably make the subway like $2 though.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Right, but the transfers are the important part. Few people travel from Woodlawn to Melrose; the Bronx relies on a strong grid of east-west (and some north-south) buses to feed the subway. Those buses could also feed Metro-North if the fares were mode-neutral with free transfers.

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