Home Staten Island Planning to charge for the Staten Island Railway

Planning to charge for the Staten Island Railway

by Benjamin Kabak

While Transit may one day add more service on Staten Island, for now, the authority is looking to charge more for the one commuter rail line currently servicing the borough. Earlier this year, the MTA started charging fares at Tompkinsville, and now, we learn that the entire line will be a fare-generating one in the near future.

As Maura Yates from the Staten Island Advance reports, the MTA will soon do away with free rides on the Staten Island Railway and will begin, within a few years, to require paid fares at every station. She writes:

The MTA plans to restore fare collection along the entire 14-mile rail line from St. George to Tottenville within the next few years, as part of a master plan to raise more revenue, cut down on crime and close what has been a free-ride perk that is unique in the city’s public transit system.

Turnstiles recently installed at the Tompkinsville station are the first part of the plan, which eventually will incorporate “Smart Card” technology to collect fares along the rest of the line. Riders now swipe their cards only at Tompkinsville and St. George, while the train is free for trips beginning and ending at any other stations along the line. Make the 37-minute trip between Stapleton and Tottenville, for instance, and pay not a cent.

When the new system goes online, which, owing to the MTA’s budget crisis, is still at least a few years away, passengers will no longer use MetroCards but rather pay with a “Smart Card,” likely a “tap and go” system, where a card is held up to a reader without the need to slow down to swipe. The system would include a way for inspectors to check for proof that the fare was paid, and scofflaws likely would face a steep fine if caught. If you didn’t pay and there were a spot check, “you’d have a problem,” said MTA board member Allen Cappelli.

While City Council members and MTA Board members are happy to discuss the impact fare collection and fare inspection will have on the safety and security of the State Island Railway, I’m more interested to hear about the costs. Yates reports that the new $6.9 million station at Tompkinsville will generate approximately $702,000 in fares this year. It will take, more or less, ten years to pay off that investment, more so if we consider depreciation and maintenance costs.

New York City Transit didn’t provide a revenue projection for the service or any potential information on the installation costs simply because it’s too remote a plan right now. While ridership dipped in 2009, recently, approximately 15,000 per day have been using the SIR, but because many of those enter and exit at the Ferry Terminal, their fares are captured. Although further investment in fare technologies on Staten Island could earn the MTA more revenue down the line and avert maintenance costs by discouraging vandalism, the overall net gains from this added revenue probably will not be realized much quicker than the investment at Tompkinsville will be.

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Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 1:27 am

Think of it as a test for new smartcard-POP technology. It’s okay for this to be more expensive at first, just like it’s okay for the first implementation of CBTC to be somewhat buggy. However, Transit should be planning to extend this to buses, and the LIRR and MNRR should be planning to extend this to commuter rail.

Making money on a ten-year depreciation cycle is pretty good – it’s a 10% nominal return, which is unheard of outside junk loans.

Nathanael March 12, 2010 - 3:13 am

Yep, this is a test line for tap-cards. If it works, they’ll start rolling it out on everything.

Nowooski March 8, 2010 - 2:14 am

Along these lines, why is the SI Ferry free? Is the thinking that everyone takes a bus or train at one end or the other of it, thus most rides would be free transfers anyhow?

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 2:18 am

It’s free because twenty years ago Staten Island threatened secession if the ferry fare weren’t reduced to zero.

bob March 10, 2010 - 5:43 pm

No one took the seccession seriously – it couldn’t happen without approval of the state legislature. It was made free as a reward for providing the margin of victory for Rudy to become mayor. Just as he shut down the landfill for them, with decades of capacity remaining, and sent the Sanitation budget through the roof trucking the garbage to NJ. (Look at the city trucks – note how many have NJDEP permits on the side.)

ferryboi March 10, 2010 - 7:46 pm

“Just as he (Giuliani) shut down the landfill for them, with decades of capacity remaining, and sent the Sanitation budget through the roof trucking the garbage to NJ” — or the other boros could have pulled their fair share and taken responsibility for their own garbage, insteading of breaking the bank and trucking it to NJ.

BTW, Staten Island got creative and now sends its trash out-of-state via rail. Meanwhile, Manhattan has been fighting furiously not to have garbage transfer stations on its waterfront, whereby garbage can be sent via barge. But of course, those selfish Staten Islanders, who took every single ounce of NYC garbage for 50 years, thereby ruining a beautifuln natural marsh area, are the ones to blame.

Eric August 18, 2018 - 9:56 am

“Just as he shut down the landfill for them, with decades of capacity remaining”

Oh, yeah, because I suppose Staten Island’s job was only to take in the other boroughs’ garbage and suffer the health risks of living near a landfill. Totally VERY selfish of us not wanting to die an early death from cancer because of the pollution!

And about the trucks, NEWSFLASH, it’s called trains and boats. The other boroughs can complain about trucking costs, but we’re smart and send our garbage out by train. So while you guys are busy wasting taxpayer dollars, we’re making good use of them and giving the island and economic boost!

So, if you want to waste our money with your polluting trucks and destruction of natural habitats, go ahead! But you better not be doing it on our land!

Jerrold March 8, 2010 - 9:52 am

The ferry became free when the concept called “One city – One fare” was introduced along with the Metrocard.
The reasoning was that a passenger should pay a single fare for his commute, regardless of whether the commute is subway, bus-subway,bus-ferry-subway, or SIR-ferry-subway.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 2:19 pm

However, if the commute is ferry-only, the fare is zero.

SI had been clamoring for a free ferry long before the MetroCard introduced free transfers.

ferryboi March 8, 2010 - 4:44 pm

I’m not sure “clamoring” would be the word I’d use. When the subway and bus fare was $1.50 (before MetroCards) most Staten Islanders were paying $6.50 round-trip to take a bus or train to the ferry terminal, 50 cents for the ferry, then another bus/train on the other end. The 50 cent ferry fare wasn’t exactly breaking the bank, but rather it cost more for the DOT to collect the money and maintain the turstiles than it was worth.

It was only basic fairness that gave SIers the one-city, one-fare option, since SI is the only boro that has no direct rail link to Manhattan (or any other boro, for that matter). It was the MTA, in its infinite wisdom, that got rid of conducters on the SI Railway and didn’t install turnstiles in all the stations, not just St. George.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 11:11 pm

Conductors on modern trains are a waste of money.

And yes, Staten Islanders paid more. So did people in Eastern Queens. What’s your point – that a 15-mile commute should cost the same fare as a 3-mile commute?

Jerrold March 8, 2010 - 11:23 pm

You say, “What’s your point – that a 15-mile commute should cost the same fare as a 3-mile commute?”

I thought that THAT was the whole point of “One city – One fare”.

If somebody in Eastern Queens is using the LIRR or an express bus, that’s something else. If he is taking a bus to the subway, his trip to work is supposed to cost one fare, just like anybody else’s trip to work.

Alon Levy March 9, 2010 - 12:53 am

But the SIR provides commuter rail service levels… and the ferry is a ferry.

ferryboi March 9, 2010 - 4:22 pm

SIR provides commuter rail service levels? Have you ever ridden the SIR? It’s exactly like the BMT subways in Brooklyn, only slower and with no direct connection to Manhattan. Is it Staten Island’s fault tha the subway was never extended out here? There have been ample opportunities, but the city has balked each time. If there were subways out here, there would be no need for the ferry.

Jerrold March 8, 2010 - 5:27 pm

Replying to Alon about ferry-only commuters:

There are a large number of people who work within easy walking distance of the ferry in Manhattan, but I would assume that the overwhelming majority of Staten Islanders do NOT live within walking distance of St. George.

Jerrold March 8, 2010 - 5:33 pm

I forgot to add:
Remember that the turnstiles were put in at Tompkinsville because some people were walking between there and the ferry to beat the fare. I don’t think that there are many Staten Island commuters who are now riding to work free.

ferryboi March 8, 2010 - 6:09 pm

Actually, there were hardly any Islanders riding for “free” from Tompkinsville or any other station. Since an overwhelming majority of NYers, including SIers, purchase unlimited MetroCards, any fare they dnt pay in the SI Railway would be captured on the local bus they transfer to on SI, or on the bus/subway after getting off the ferry in Manhattan. I seriously doublt there were more than a handful of people who were getting off a Tompkinsville, walking to St. George, and then taking ferry to Manhattan and walking to their jobs on that end.

Your average SIer, who makes a decent wage and often pays $11 round-trip for a city express bus, does not have the time nor inclination to get off at Tompkinsville and walk a half mile to St. George to save a buck or two when they already have an unlimited MetroCard. Why the MTA spent $7 million to capture a few hundered fares from people who already use unlimited cards is beyond me.

Joe March 9, 2010 - 9:55 am

Along these lines why is every bridge connecting the boroughs free, while the Verazanno is $11. Please realize it takes 75 minutes a day for me to get to Court St. in Brooklyn do to the denial of Staten Island. The free ferry is the one good thing going for us here.

Aaron March 9, 2010 - 1:57 pm

If you don’t like your commute, move. Seriously. You live on an island that geographically ought to be a New Jersey township, not a borough of NYC. Why should residents of the other four boroughs subsidize Staten Islanders? Instead of clamoring for free fares, SI residents should instead be pushing transit alternatives, be it incorporating SIR into MTA via the BMT 4th Ave or extending NJ Transit onto the island.

Joe March 9, 2010 - 2:44 pm

Why should Staten Islanders pay for projects going on in Queens then using your logic. It would be great if there were other transit options, but considering everything that is proposed, the city shoots it down. I am not complaining about the fares per stop because I have an unlimited card. SI has absolutely no representation.

Aaron March 9, 2010 - 3:58 pm

I’m talking about fares, not about paying for projects, where the nature of funding means that funds are often focused on one project in particular. People in Queens pay fares for transit, so should people in SI.

SI has no representation? It’s called City Council. It’s actually quite an interesting place. If you feel like SI transit is being neglected, start advocating for new service.

I don’t necessarily think there’s value in charging for the SI Ferry, largely because most people will simply be transferring to or from other MTA services anyhow, but that doesn’t mean that Staten Islanders are entitled to free transportation because they’re far from the CBD.

ferryboi March 9, 2010 - 4:30 pm

Aaron: let me reiterate that the MTA got rid of conductors on the SIR, and that fully 90% of riders’ fares are captured at St. George, where a mojority of Islanders get on/off the SIR. Nobody out here asked for “free” rides, which again are not free because most riders use an Unlimited MetroCard and swipe at St. George.

As far as SI being “geographically” connected to NJ, what exactly has that to do with anything? Staten Island has absolutely no subway option, and Islanders pay a lot of money to ride the express bus ($5.50 each way) and heavy tolls ($5-$11) on the Verrazano Bridge. If you think the subway fares should be distance-based, there are many parts of Bklyn or Queens that are a hell of a lot farther from downtown Manhattan than SI is. I love the way some people say “move” as if 500,000 people just popped up on SI overnight. And nobody, absoultely nobody, on Staten Island is asking for “free” rides. Seriously.

Aaron March 9, 2010 - 8:06 pm

I’m responding to Joe, who in fact asserted that SI residents are entitled to free service on the SI ferry. I don’t disagree with what you say, I think charging a fare for the ferry would be an expensive proposition whose farebox recovery would be fantastically low since I suspect well above 90% of ferry riders have transferred to or from another MTA service. But I definitely find fault with Joe’s assertion that SI residents are entitled to free transit because they’re far from Manhattan, or that the Narrows were created in an Albany-based conspiracy to isolate SI residents who have “no representation,” whatever that meant. You’re exactly right – there’s a lot of people who are far from Manhattan.

bob March 10, 2010 - 5:49 pm

“Along these lines why is every bridge connecting the boroughs free, while the Verazanno is $11.”

Firstly, the other TBTA bridges connecting the boros have tolls (Bronx-Whitestone, Triboro, etc) so “every” bridge is not free.

Second, SI residents always conviently forget to mention they get a very heavily discounted toll. They don’t pay $11.00. And that 11 is because all other TBTA crossings are tolled both ways, but SI pushed a provision through the legislature mandating a one-way toll test (that never ends). So it’s twice the one-way fare. And because of the direction it’s collected it gives an incentive to trucks to do a circle route via SI, Brooklyn and exit the city via Lower Manhattan, increasing truck traffic in Manhattan. So many of us are suffering for SI convenience.

ferryboi March 10, 2010 - 7:36 pm

Funny Bob that, when SIers were paying full tolls on the V-N Bridge, or were paying FOUR fares per day on the subway/bus and then ANOTHER fare on the SI Ferry, the rest of the city didn’t exactly come to our defense and complain. And though other MTA (TBTA) Bridges like the Whitestone and Triboro/RFK charge tolls, residents in the Bronx and Queens have FREE options (Willis Ave, Queensboro, Brooklyn Bridges, etc) whereas SI has no other option. Paying even $5 to drive one lousy mile to Brookln is outrageous.

And how exactly does the “circle” truck route inconvenience the rest of the city? A truck entering Manhattan via Brooklyn is less convenient than a truck entering Manhattan via NJ? If trucks “exit the city via Lower Manhattan” do they not pay tolls? Your “circular” reasoning makes no sense.

Alon Levy March 11, 2010 - 3:10 am

The Verrazano wasn’t free to build. And no, there’s no free route from Queens to the Bronx, unless you want to detour through 3rd Avenue and Queensboro. In all outer boroughs, the easiest way to avoid tolls is to ride the bus or the subway.

Edward March 12, 2010 - 12:14 am

Yes, except Staten Island doesn’t HAVE a subway to the other boros, and the express bus costs $5.50, more than double the cost of a subway ride. And yes, the VN wasn’t built for free, it was paid for by bonds that have long since been cashed in. Ask and Staten Islander if they’d be happy to have some of the toll money they pay on the VN go toward a subway connection to Brooklyn.

Nathanael March 12, 2010 - 3:15 am

There was a plan for a subway from Staten Island to Brooklyn. The stub tunnels in Brooklyn are still sitting there. Yet I don’t see any organized movement to actually build it.

ferryboi March 13, 2010 - 11:13 am

And you wont see any organized movement to build it, with the current state of the MTA’s finaces being what they are. In the meantime, SI has to make do with what it has.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines March 8, 2010 - 9:01 am

[…] MTA to Restore Fare Collection Along Staten Island Railway (Advance, SAS) […]

SEAN March 8, 2010 - 10:24 am

In L.A. there MTA has been dealing with fare evation at an extreme level because there subway “Red Line” is barier free, although a ticket needs to be purchased. Now stations are being installed with turnstyles with readers for there “Transit Access Pass” a contactless smartcard.

TAP is being installed on all transit systems throughout L.A. county. A very large undertaking but we need to do the same thing.

In the bay area CalTrain has installed readers ffor the “Translink” card. The way it works is you tap on at your bording station, the max fare is charged . After you get off the train you tap off & what difference between your fare & the max fare is refunded. Failure to tap off results in the max fare being charged.

It will take a few years to have TAP & Translink fully opperational in, however we need to get started on our system & PATH is leading the way with Smartlink.

John March 8, 2010 - 11:17 am

Sounds like they didn’t do enough enforcement. Proof of payment only works if (a) the penalty for getting caught is very stiff (aka the cost of at least a few hundred rides) AND (b) it’s enforced enough for “a” to matter.

SEAN March 8, 2010 - 12:24 pm

In L. A. the fine is $250. So in NY it should be equal if not more.

AK March 8, 2010 - 12:42 pm

I think $250 is plenty. While an even larger fine would, in theory, make fare evasion much less common I would argue that in practice it is likely to have little effect because a significant percentage of fare evaders are unable to pay the current $100 turnstile jump fine imposed by MTA as it is. What happens is that these people, many of whom are unemployed/underemployed, fight the ticket at the Transit Adjudication Bureau, plead indigency on appeal, and very often are simply deemed unable to pay (at least on their first offense).

It isn’t easy to figure out a solution to this problem since, in lieu of a fine, an imposition of imprisonment, even for a short duration, would be an enormous cost on the State.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 4:30 pm

I don’t think the fine is that high in any European POP system. There are other ways to ensure high compliance rate – for example, have ticket inspectors board in groups of 3-4.

Mind you, beyond a certain point it just isn’t worth it. Cutting fare evasion from 6% to 2% is only useful if it costs less than 4% of the fare, which it may not.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 2:20 pm

Why didn’t LA try to learn from German and Swiss systems about how to keep fare evasion rates down? In Zurich, the fare evasion rate is 2% if I’m not mistaken.

Boris March 8, 2010 - 2:40 pm

I’m afraid that would involve reeducating the public by sending them to live in Switzerland at a young age.

SEAN March 8, 2010 - 4:01 pm

L. A. wanted an open system like most light rail systems. With the TAP card you can have a semi open system. security officers cary little scanners to detect who hasn’t paid by running the card through it. Same for Translink on CalTrain with their conductors.

When the MTA employs smartcards the bus & subway fare collection will be faster & easier. As for LIRR & MNR it will be simplist to tag on at your boarding station & tag off at the station you alight. No need to buy a ticket then have it punched . The card calculates the correct fare based on what discounts if any apply. In adition you could have a card that combines a rail ticket with bus / subway fares or other combinations of transit products suited to various customers.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 4:25 pm

Vancouver, Berlin, and Copenhagen are fully open systems. I don’t know their fare evasion rates, but none is planning to install turnstiles.

On the LIRR you could do it the way you suggest, which is the standard Japanese way. (Japan has no POP – the passenger densities are too high.) Or you could do it the German way or the non-Parisian French way, which is that people validate tickets at the station, and the fare is enforced with random inspections rather than barriers.

SEAN March 8, 2010 - 7:11 pm

Keep it simple. Tag on, tag off.

Alon Levy March 8, 2010 - 11:09 pm

It’s simpler without fare barriers and ticket agents at every station.

john b March 9, 2010 - 1:45 pm

self-validating is what njt employs on their light rails and thats right next door.

rhywun March 9, 2010 - 12:39 am

So true… the same solution might lead to Americans no longer throwing their garbage all over the place nor playing their music in such a way as to intentionally annoy their neighbors.

Alon Levy March 9, 2010 - 12:55 am

I don’t know the Swiss solution to garbage, but the Singaporean one is to install trashcans at closely spaced intervals on streets. New York itself has decent trashcan coverage by the standards of Tel Aviv, and accordingly is cleaner.

Switzerland may be clean and law-abiding by culture, but in Singapore it’s all directives, enforcement, and government provisions.

Benjamin Kabak March 9, 2010 - 1:16 am

On a related note, isn’t that one of the reasons why the subway system is so dirty? Its trashcan coverage area is remarkably low.

Aaron March 9, 2010 - 1:15 am

It’s not so much policy as politics. Most people know that farebox recovery due to the new fare gates will be less than the cost of implementation and maintenance. In reality, this was the County of Los Angeles – which is structured to be anti-urban and anti-City of Los Angeles, as all five supervisory districts are gerrymandered in such a fashion to have a suburban/rural majority – basically kicking Metro in the nuts. The alleged impetus for this was that a mentally ill individual dumped a vial of mercury on the platform at Pershing Square, and the County Board of Supervisors took that as their excuse to force fare gates for “security” reasons. Most City-based transit advocates quite plausibly responded “Will the fare gates have mercury detectors?” but the proposal had inertia and became impossible to stop. The stations will remain unstaffed, so it’s hard to see how this is a security measure, but… that’s what you get when Palmdale gets to vote on how to run the Los Angeles subway. My understanding is that fare evasion is higher there than it is in New York or Chicago, but New York and Chicago spend far more on fare collection than LA Metro does.

In all my time commuting on Metro, it was rare to see someone actually fail to pay the fare – it certainly happened, but the vast majority of time that LA County Sheriffs boarded my train, all riders had tickets or, more likely, monthly passes.

So basically, as a practical matter, POP actually was working as intended, but the media there is even less transit-savvy than it is in New York and the shouting for fare gates basically got too loud for people to handle. Because, you know, fare gates will keep mentally ill people with vials of mercury from buying a ticket.

pasta June 2, 2012 - 7:45 pm

This does not make sense. Staten Island has been called the forgotten borogh. Keep the train free, and we will stay


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