Home LIRR Report: NYC wants more city commuters on LIRR, Metro-North

Report: NYC wants more city commuters on LIRR, Metro-North

by Benjamin Kabak

New York City has a bit of a tortured history with its commuter rail lines. Although some LIRR stops in Queens are among the system’s busiest, unlike in many other cities (I’m looking at you, Paris), the commuter rail lines do not act as a rail option for a significant portion of New York City commuters. This is largely a function of two factors — cost and frequency — but more on that shortly.

Now, in an attempt to take pressure off the subway, NYC is studying ways to get more New York City commuters on these commuter rail services, according to a report in Crains New York. Joe Anuta writes:

The department has tapped engineering firm AECOM to look at potential changes that would boost ridership on Long Island Rail Road and Metro North lines running within the five boroughs. Reducing fares within city limits, for example, would entice more residents to use commuter rails like the subway system and connect more neighborhoods to transit hubs like Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in Manhattan, Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Jamaica and Woodside stations in Queens.

“AECOM is under contract to … investigate service and policy strategies for the city zone of the commuter rail network to connect residents to more frequent and affordable regional rail service, and potentially reduce crowding on nearby subway lines,” a spokesman for the department said in a statement.

In particular, the de Blasio administration has floated the idea of running trains more frequently between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica Station so Queens commuters could then transfer to a number of subway lines at the Brooklyn hub.

The study will cost DOT $787,000, but I’ll do it for half that. Any changes, of course, would have to be implemented by the state-run MTA.

Now, it’s all well and good to explore ways to get more New Yorkers to use rail lines that stop in the city and serve Midtown, but the equation is a simple one. Run trains more frequently; rationalize the fares; stop treating commuter rail lines like some plush luxury service for suburban commuters; and for the love of all that’s holy, figure out how to connect Grand Central and Penn Station and develop a plan for through-running.

In essence, use pre-existing infrastructure and some new build to create an RER-style network. Sure, suburban riders more throw a fit over Those City People riding their trains for less, but a rational distance-based fare would encourage city riders. Plus, Penn Station Access is designed to do just that anyway when and if it sees the light of day. In fact, this very plan was recently suggested by Alon Levy as an April Fools joke which tells you everything you need to know about transit planning in NYC.

And yet, as noted in Anuta’s piece, the scope of the city’s imagination seems to be limited to a frequent Jamaica-Atlantic Terminal shuttle that simply moves commuters from one subway station to another. A rationalized fare with frequent service could help move Queens residents to Lower Manhattan and open up Downtown Brooklyn, but that seems far too limited in scope and potential. Think big; think network. Someone around this city should.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s own internal effort at building NYC-based commuter rail ridership is running into political problems as city pols think the MTA’s Freedom Ticket pilot is going to fail by design. The pilot may permit city riders to access only Atlantic Terminal and not Penn Station, and thus, riders would not save time or money. Who needs best practices and an integrated rail network when you have…New York City practices?

You may also like


Eddie Sporn April 11, 2018 - 8:28 am

Benjamin…you mentioned “though-running”. Are you familiar with this plan?


tacony April 11, 2018 - 10:29 am

LIRR and MNR are outrageously expensive of course, but they already have distance based fare zones, so I’m not sure about calling for “rational distance-based fare” — if you mean that LIRR and MNR in the city should cost the same as a subway ride or even accept a MetroCard, just say that. Despite the fact that this is becoming “best practice” in Europe to charge mode-agnostic distance-based fares, this has never been done in New York, so it’s obviously not intuitive to the local institutional culture. And in some cases we’ve made the system LESS distance-based over time by, for instance, getting rid of the “2 fare zone” that once existed in the Rockaways. If you have the time to waste, you can now take a Bee-Line Bus in Westchester and get a transfer to the subway in the Bronx, ride all the way through Manhattan and hop a train to Queens where you can yet again transfer to a NICE Bus to Nassau County. All on a MetroCard! That absurd trip would be a bunch of more expensive zones in a rationalized European-style fare scheme. But there are plenty of suburbanites (who tend to be the poorer ones) who transfer from Bee-Line and NICE to the subway who enjoy the fact that they don’t pay an extra suburban fare. Our “single fare zone” is huge. We’re not like London where concentric circles within the city dictate your social class by your transit fare. Should we be?

I’m not sure how productive it is to frame opposition at LIRR and MNR to lowering fares in the city as “throw[ing] a fit over Those City People riding their trains for less” when suburban riders don’t get to vote on fare policy. (They do get to attend public hearings whenever there’s a fare hike and a few do come to say no but the fares are raised anyway.) Maybe some people are horrible racist, classist, city-haters who want to ride their own segregated chariot into Manhattan but we don’t get anywhere by slurring every single suburban transit rider that way. The railroads have always charged much higher fares than the trolleys (which became the buses) and subways and elevateds. This was true since LIRR served mostly Queens riders back when most of Nassau and Suffolk were farmland.

ALex April 11, 2018 - 11:24 am

Rational is the word you clearly missed, both in reading and thought.

JJJJ April 11, 2018 - 10:46 am

“but they already have distance based fare zones, so I’m not sure about calling for “rational distance-based fare” — if you mean that LIRR and MNR in the city should cost the same as a subway ride or even accept a MetroCard, just say that.”

A trip from a zone 1 station to another zone 1 station (ie, Kew Gardens to Forest Hills costs $8.75)

A trip from a zone 4 station to another zone 4 station costs $3.25.

That seems rational and fair to you?

Rational distance-based fares could mean Kew Gardens to Forest Hills for $3.25, not necessarily $2.75.

Oh and:

“One-Way tickets for intermediate fares (Zones 4 – 14) are priced to encourage local travel, and there is no Peak/Off-Peak cost distinction. In”


tacony April 11, 2018 - 12:15 pm

You’re right that the intermediate and same-zone fares seem designed to rip off anyone attempting inter-city travel, but I meant that the LIRR/MNR fare structures could broadly be considered “distance-based” in that there are fare zones and fares increase with the number of zones traveled.

You’re pointing out that travel that includes Zone 1 is more expensive than travel in other zones. If you never touch zone 1 it’s cheaper than trips that do. E.g. White Plains to Fordham is much cheaper than White Plains to Grand Central. I think the idea here is that Zone 1 is the most crowded, congested rail space and the most valuable, whereas intermediate travel within other zones is less used. So should Zone 3 (or the currently non-existent Zone 2) encompass all Queens and Brooklyn stations, to only soak the Manhattan commuters? Maybe that would be a good reform. But you’re just tinkering around the margins of the existing zone structure.

MDC April 11, 2018 - 10:58 am

Reviving the Rockaway Beach line, either as part of the LIRR or the subway, would be a relatively easy system expansion. Well, easy, logistically speaking. We have to factor in the powers that be behaving with maximum political cowardice, and the MTA paying 6x more than they should if the idea ever actually becomes reality.

Jimmy Snoogans April 13, 2018 - 2:58 am

Extending the R (likely) through the Rockaway branch would make too much sense. The only piece of major construction necessary would be the 1000′ connecting the Queens Blvd branch to the Rockaway Branch, and a bellmouth and a partially-built signal tower already exist just past the 63rd Road-Rego Park stop.
(This would also create more turnaround capacity at 71st-Continental, which would allow for the return of the G train! A boy can dream…)

BruceNY April 11, 2018 - 2:08 pm

“The study will cost DOT $787,000, but I’ll do it for half”…

And there Ladies and Gentlemen is yet another example of how the MTA throws money down the drain because it can’t be bothered to try to do any better. It reminds me of 20 years ago or so when they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a “Population Density Study” of the Upper East Side to determine the need for reviving the 2nd Avenue Subway project. The Upper East Side is densely populated? Really! Who knew?

Regarding the LIRR and MNR, why not simply charge the same fare as the express buses from the boroughs into Manhattan. They’re all part of the MTA–can’t they just figure this out on their own and do it? If the demand is there, ridership will increase, and the MTA, in its usual fashion will do everything it can to avoid adding additional service to relieve the overcrowding.

Joe Steindam April 12, 2018 - 11:05 pm

For clarification, the City (via NYCDOT) and not the MTA’s money, is the agency paying for the study. I realize I’m being pedantic, but if you’re going to make an argument about government waste, pick on the right agency.

Adirondacker12800 April 11, 2018 - 3:31 pm

If they hadn’t done the study, someone would sue that the DEIS wasn’t complete because they didn’t have specific numbers, with the methodology documented, to record that the Upper East Side is densely populated.

Roy April 11, 2018 - 10:03 pm

Many rush-hour MNR trains don’t make stops in the city anyway, so it makes no difference to this suburban commuter if “city people” get cheaper tickets to use MNR. Good luck to them finding seats!

Larry Littlefield April 12, 2018 - 3:56 pm

One option would be to offer “standee” tickets on commuter rail for the same price as the subway.

Those paying more would get the seats. Those switching from the subway probably would have been standing for that long anyway, until enough people got off to open a seat, but this way they’d get all the way home.

Adirondacker12800 April 12, 2018 - 4:32 pm

how will it be enforced?

Alon Levy April 12, 2018 - 9:29 pm

Seat reservations!

eo April 13, 2018 - 5:01 pm

On a commuter train? Some peak hour trains are SRO even now. This dog does not hunt until the MTA follows European/Asian practices and figures out how to run more frequent service.

Alon Levy April 13, 2018 - 6:10 pm

Yes? There are first-class cars in Zurich and Tokyo and IIRC there used to be some in Paris before they discontinued the program; the pricing is set to ensure everyone will have a seat even at rush hour.

FLTD April 21, 2018 - 9:42 am

There’s overcrowding help on the way in the form of the M8 supplemental car order: 60 cars on the base order + 34 options to increase total ConnDOT/New Haven fleet size to 499. In addition to satisfying Penn Station Access and Shore Line East fleet needs, it’ll allow MNRR to run 10-car trains all the time at peak to tame the chronic overcrowding. Currently there’s only 3 stops left in Fairfield County on the heaviest local schedule to Stamford that need extensions for platforming all 10 cars.

East-of-Hudson diesel territory’s getting the mass retirement of all 200 Shoreliner single-levels for NJT MLV clone bi-levels with 2 x 2 seating to increase capacity somewhat without needing to lengthen all the 4-6 car platforms in Upper Hudson/Harlem territory or start bogarting the longer GCT platforms from electric sets. Less-optimal passenger flow with bi’s, sure, but maxes out seating availability on the existing consist lengths before they need to grapple with outright consist lengthening.

That pretty much leaves lengthening Hudson/Harlem electric consists as a major initiative for the overcrowding solve, but that one’s going to be considerably tougher because of the electrical supply and number of short-platform lengthenings required…especially on the Harlem out to N. White Plains where the infrastructure is system-oldest and most inconsistent/least incumbently capable of absorbing a train length expansion for the overcrowding hours.

Yofi April 13, 2018 - 5:07 pm

My suggestion: Why don’t they put machines at LIRR/MNR terminals just like the Select Bus Service ones, charge $6.50 (same as express bus) for any LIRR/MNR ride within city limits, and have conductors check for receipts on the train just like they check for SBS now?

Keith I stré April 14, 2018 - 6:42 pm

First, need to start and finish the MNR extension into the Bronx from New Rochelle through Co-Op City to Penn. (Understanding that the East River Access Project needs finishing first.) Second, (let’s be dreamy) extend LIR from Atlantic Ave Station into the Fulton St Subway Station. Then, possibly make the line go straight to Grand Central and or Penn. Create a loop from Long Island, Brooklyn (Atlantic), downtown (Fulton), midwest-town (Penn), mideast-town (Grand Central), Queens (Long Island City), then back into Long Island and vice versa. This would help people avoid the subway mess between these waypoints. And bring some express upcharge fares into the system. That’s if it is funded without anyone expecting it to pay for itself and its build. Now that would cost a pretty big apple dollar!? Maybe do something similar in and out of NJ. Am I high or could or should this be done?

JTG April 15, 2018 - 4:55 pm

It makes no sense that LIRR and MNR trains don’t work in a run-through model. The model of having large terminal stations in city centers has largely been abandoned in favor of run-through lines. The other thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why PATH and NJ Transit aren’t part of the same system, or at least have easy transfers? It’s virtually impossible to live in NJ and work in Queens/Brooklyn/The Bronx.


Leave a Comment