As politicians have recently called upon the MTA to rationalize commuter rail fares for travel within New York City, an MTA watchdog group has issued a firm proposal to do just that, which, they claim, would cost the MTA only $3 million. It’s called the Freedom Ticket, and it’s an idea put forward by the New York City Transit Rider Council. They want the MTA to implement it first in the transit desert of Southeast Queens and later at all commuter rail stations that are at least 0.8 miles away from the nearest subway stop.
The report — available on NYCTRC’s website — offers up a rigorous examination of potential fare combinations and routes with available capacity. According to their report, there are approximately 20,000 peak-hour LIRR seats available for riders from Southeast Queens, and Babylon, Long Beach, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, and West Hempstead trains could carry the load (in addition to ample space on trains to the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn). By rationalizing fares — not to the level of a MetroCard swipe but in line with an LIRR monthly pass — the MTA could better serve these under-served areas.
“Being able to use commuter rail within the City at a reasonable cost means real freedom for people in parts of the City that are underserved by transit. Freedom Ticket means real freedom for hundreds of thousands of city residents with some of the most difficult commutes in the city.” NYCTRC Chair Andrew Albert said.
Essentially, the idea here is to offer the use of space on certain LIRR trains and free connections between the LIRR and other NYC Transit modes. At $215 per month, the ticket is still more expensive than a monthly MetroCard but slightly lower than an express bus pass. Travel times could be cut to Manhattan by around 40 minutes, and the addition of a transfer will allow for mobility within the city. Of course, this only works for those commuting to and from work; additional rides would incur an additional fee, something unlimited ride MetroCard users don’t worry about these days. Still, with savings of up to 50% and considerably shortened commutes, the offer would be well worth it for many.
When the topic has come up in the past, the MTA has objected on the grounds that it will affect their bottom line. Forget the convenience of it; to the agency, unless it’s their idea, it’s all about the money. William Henderson, head of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, came prepared. The council believes their proof of concept if implemented in Queens would cost the MTA $4.3 million (a pittance really) while generating around $1.5 million if 1000 new riders fill seats. At 3000 riders, the proposal draws even, and the NYCTRC even suggested that local NYC politicians have access to discretionary funding to help subsidize some or all of the costs. If these numbers bear out, it’s as close to a no-brainer as possible.
Looking ahead, then, the NYCTRC believes this program could expand following completion of East Side Access (and Penn Station Access) when commuter rail would provide direct connections from Queens and the Bronx to both Grand Central and Penn Station. Then, the so-called Freedom Ticket should be implemented at all commuter rail stops that are at least 0.8 miles away from a subway. This would expand the program to a handful of stops in the Bronx.
For its part, the MTA seemed more willing to entertain this idea than they have been in the past, but in a statement, the agency still stressed the need for a net-zero impact to their bottom line, the shortsightedness of which I covered last week. “It’s an interesting proposal to alleviate the concerns of some of our customers,” Adam Lisberg said in a statement, though it would certainly carry a financial impact for the MTA as well. We’ll consider it next year as we determine how to structure the next in our series of modest fare increases equivalent to the rate of inflation.”
To access the full report along with all supporting documentation, you can download the PDF here.