Home Queens For NYC’s transit deserts, Riders Council suggests ‘Freedom’

For NYC’s transit deserts, Riders Council suggests ‘Freedom’

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Max Roberts December 3, 2015 - 7:09 am

Why is the LIRR running so many empty seats at peak times?

Rob December 3, 2015 - 8:55 am

I wonder abt that too. That number should be checked. Another question is whether you think the LIRR trainmen/union would agree to check all those extra tickets.

DF December 3, 2015 - 9:57 am

I don’t understand either.

Page 18: Jamaica -> Penn 8-9 AM there are 6,888 empty seats
Page 27: Jamaica -> Penn 8-9 AM there are 25 trains with no capacity and 6 trains with capacity

VLM December 3, 2015 - 10:06 am

Another question is whether you think the LIRR trainmen/union would agree to check all those extra tickets.

Tough shit. They already suck the LIRR dry through absurd pensions and featherbedding. If they have to actually do their jobs, they can deal. They’re lucky the Freedom Ticket plan doesn’t come with a call for POP on commuter rails and no ticket-checkers at all.

Larry Littlefield December 3, 2015 - 10:14 am

“If they have to actually do their jobs.”

Big if.

If you don’t do your job for long enough, not doing your job because the working conditions you have a right to the way the system is set up.

Eric December 3, 2015 - 10:25 am

If not – fire them all.

Larry Littlefield December 3, 2015 - 1:21 pm

Only a few years after you figure out which state legislators they own, and somehow get rid of them. The few years are for injunctions by the judges appointed by the state legislators in the lawsuit whose goal is to keep going indefinitely.

Bolwerk December 3, 2015 - 2:01 pm

Think it’s even that sinister? I have a feeling a lot of legislators just don’t even consider that there is a problem. They’re just “pro-union,” and unquestionably support a union as if it’s incorruptible.

Probably explains why “liberals” can’t contest Pat Lynch’s hog union, which engages in borderline mafia-like behavior.

Larry Littlefield December 4, 2015 - 9:58 am

You are aware that the heads of the two houses of the state legislature are facing jail on corruption charges — based on federal cases, not the state cleaning up its own act.

And it’s strictly Capone on tax evasion. So Silver got $4 million in kickbacks and Skelos demanded a no-show job for his son. Compared to the really damaging stuff the state has done, that really doesn’t matter.

Tower18 December 4, 2015 - 10:13 am

The really big stuff is always hard to prove, because it generally appears to the outside to be in the course of normal business. It’s the little stuff where they slip up and get caught.

Unless you’re Rahm Emanuel.

Henry December 4, 2015 - 3:48 pm

The Far Rockaway, West Hempstead, and Long Beach trains that serve SE Queens all run to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn (with some peak hour trains to Penn Station). Because Atlantic Terminal is not in and of itself a major CBD, and because a subway trip from Atlantic Terminal to Lower Manhattan doesn’t save a lot of time compared to a train from Penn to Lower Manhattan, many riders change at Jamaica to go to Penn Station instead of Atlantic. Trains may be fuller on arrival at Jamaica from those three branches than when they leave it.

Larry Littlefield December 3, 2015 - 7:30 am

It isn’t just about the money.

Back in the Pataki Administration, the LIRR was going to skip NYC stations during a potential TWU strike so residents of Nassau and Suffolk wouldn’t have to share the trains with the people of NYC. Part racial, part class.

And don’t forget that the former Afro-American City Council member from SE Queens one fought against a plan to use one of the two LIRR branches there for subway service, to avoid having an easy transit connection with the poorer areas near downtown Jamaica.

People on this board think about transportation. People in politics think about “people like us” versus “people like them.” And most actual residents of metro NY like that? Hopefully not, but the political/union class is not representative.

Nathanael December 3, 2015 - 10:07 am

The LIRR management thinks of itself as working for eastern Nassau and Suffolk — probably the most bigoted constituencies in the state. This is a problem.

You’ll note that Metro-North never considers skipping stops in the Bronx. Better attitude.

Larry Littlefield December 3, 2015 - 10:14 am

And Yonkers didn’t go nuts when they built that 3rd track on the Harlem Line.

SEAN December 3, 2015 - 7:45 pm

Lets not forget that the areas where that third track was constructed aren’t in the poor house by any means, even the nearby areas of Yonkers to the west 10708 & 10710 are upper-middle class.

Alon Levy December 3, 2015 - 9:13 pm

The New Haven Line only makes one stop in the Bronx, because of an old trackage rights agreement between the NYC and the NYNH&H. Forget interagency turf battles – this is turf battles within the same agency.

adirondacker12800 December 3, 2015 - 9:58 pm

CDOT doesn’t want to slow down their passengers.

tacony December 3, 2015 - 10:37 am

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.

Wait, what? When I read this I assumed this was actually an unlimited ride Metrocard and an unlimited ride LIRR pass in one. So this would be some new kind of monthly pass where you are entitled to 1 free NYCT transfer after riding the LIRR, but otherwise NYCT is not included? This does not seem to be well thought out. Is the free transfer not allowed in both directions? If you want to take the bus TO the LIRR, you’re paying more? That’s wacky. And how will they know whether you rode LIRR or not? Will LIRR stations need Metrocard swipe validators or something, to register your ride for the purposes of the free transfer afterward? I don’t see how this works otherwise.

tacony December 3, 2015 - 11:13 am

The more I think about this proposal the more complicated and bizarre this gets in implementation.

This proposal is only for these SE Queens stations, and proposed to be expanded to LIRR and MNR stations that aren’t near the subway. This pass would presumably need to be restrictive in ways no current LIRR/MNR monthly passes are. Current passes are priced by zone, and passes between Penn and SE Queens allow for travel anywhere between “Zone 1” and “Zone 3.” You can make intermediate trips along the way. You can get off early or get on late. If you have a doctor in Kew Gardens you can stop there on the way home from work and get back on a train home.

The Freedom Pass would be a better deal than the existing Metrocard+LIRR passes for people who live closer in Queens, so presumably you’d have to not allow use at these stations? Which would also mean not allowing stopovers? Would conductors now have to check tickets on exit of LIRR trains (which is crazy) to make sure people traveling to Jamaica (who are less “deserving” of the discount because they have the option of taking the subway) aren’t using it?

Is the other option geographic discrimination based on home address? Maybe you’ll only be able to get them mailed to an address in the SE Queens zone? So it won’t be available to people who work there? You can currently buy passes to and from any station no matter where you live. That’d be a new concept.

Henry December 4, 2015 - 3:53 pm

If I remember correctly, stopovers are under consideration for elimination anyways in the next fare hike. So that gets rid of that problem. It’s also possible for the MTA to restrict daily ride amounts on Metrocards; Student Metrocards are limited to 3 swipes a day. So you get two or three swipes a day on this Freedom Ticket and the LIRR pass functions as a monthly.

I assume the Freedom Ticket will subsume the Metrocard+LIRR pass currently offered in Zones 3 and 1.

ajedrez December 5, 2015 - 5:31 am

They can’t eliminate stopovers on a monthly. A Zone 1-Zone 3 pass is valid anywhere within those zones. (I mean, for that matter, what’s to prevent somebody from stopping over in Jamaica and conducting business before transferring to another LIRR train)?

ajedrez December 5, 2015 - 5:36 am

You can’t eliminate a stopover on a monthly pass. A ticket from Zone 1 to Zone 3 is valid within Zones 1 & 3 as well. (What’s to stop somebody from just getting off the train in Woodside or Kew Gardens instead of Penn Station, and then taking a later train to finish their trip?)

Actually, come to think about it, even with the pay-per-ride tickets, there’s nothing to stop somebody from taking a train from Penn (or Atlantic) to Jamaica, and then conducting business in Jamaica before taking another train out to Eastern Queens or Long Island.

22r December 3, 2015 - 11:57 am

uhh…. why is this so complicated? just do as they do in countries that take transit seriously: one ticket that’s valid on any mode of transportation within a specified area zone. There’s no reason why this ticket can’t be the standard MTA unlimited pass.

adirondacker12800 December 3, 2015 - 4:02 pm

…the first zone is Manhattan to Jamaica and the second zone is Jamaica to the stations in southeastern Queens?

Henry December 4, 2015 - 3:55 pm

Because we’re talking about a flat zone with the subway and fare zones with the train. The flat zone with the subway is not going to go away any time soon, and making the City one giant flat zone would probably hike prices for zone-1 travel (although, very few people make zone 1 to zone 1 trips anyways).

AMH December 3, 2015 - 4:33 pm

This sounds like a great idea, but do we have to slap the “Freedom” label on everything?

SEAN December 3, 2015 - 7:50 pm

Well, since THEY hate our freedom – the answer would be yes. I’ll let you decide who THEY are.

Spendmore Wastemor December 4, 2015 - 6:04 pm

There’s barely any commuter rail options in NYC, anywhere. Why not add one more line which runs as commuter rail. The subway fails people on two ends: those with physical limitations, who can’t take the heat, noise, and time involved. Some people are close to bedbound but mobile for an hour or three. An hour subway trip means they would have to turn around minutes after reaching the destination.
Another group is those who bill or are paid highly for their time. If your time pays, say, $500 per hour, five hours per week wasted by going 19mph on the subway is $2500. At at total tax rate of 50% (fed, state, local, FICA, misc) that costs them $2500 and the public $2500. Rather than screaming about unfairness, we should be helping those people produce whatever it is they’re getting paid and taxed on. Whether the product is vital or total cr-p doesn’t matter for this purpose.
Those making $25/hr lose as well, but they’re not paying thousands per week in tax. (cue screaming from certain parties ;-).

Work through whatever red tape and tech issues are involved, those can be fixed in the will exist (voltage, signal etc etc, none are rocket science).

Spendmore Wastemor December 4, 2015 - 6:05 pm

eh, I forget there’s no edit function. Pay no mind to the errata.

adirondacker12800 December 4, 2015 - 8:31 pm

People who make 500 an hour walk to work. They can afford the condo that close to work.

Bolwerk December 4, 2015 - 11:53 pm

Re those $500/hour types, I’d think they typically either

• are close-ish enough to work where they commute 30m or less by subway or even, as adirondacker says, walk. Subways I’d expect them to use are the 4/5/6 from UES/Lower Manattan/Park Slope, maybe E or F from Forest Hills, or the future SAS.

• actually live rather ridiculously far away and either drive or take commuter rail, but probably work a mix of crazy yet flexible hours to cope with the grind.


• are among a few the exceptions diffused around the city who drive.

When a day’s work can get you the month’s rent on a fucking nice apartment in Manhattan, it’s a bit hard to imagine that crowd dealing with the G Train. Even the L Train from now-swanky Williamsburg is pushing it.


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