Metro-North and LIRR trips within the five boroughs can cost quadruple the price of a MetroCard, forcing straphangers to choose between high cost or commutes up to three times as long

MTA should lower all commuter rail fares to the base Metrocard fare of $2.75, and allow free transfers between rail, subways, and buses

Proposal would cut commute times in half, relieve overcrowding on subways, and dramatically expand mass transit in 31 neighborhoods

(New York, NY) — Today, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer called on the MTA to drop prohibitively expensive Metro-North and LIRR fares to the price of a Metrocard swipe for all trips within the five boroughs. The Comptroller’s proposal would dramatically expand transit access in 31 neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that have Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stations. While commuter rail stations are often the only mass transit option for the 1.4 million residents of these neighborhoods, expensive ticket prices – nearly four times as costly as a Metrocard swipe – leave locals stranded and forced to take lengthy trips on overcrowded roads, subways, and buses. Simply lowering fares and allowing free transfers between commuter rail, subways, and buses for all trips in the city would have system-wide benefits and help alleviate the city’s transit crisis.

The Comptroller’s new report, Expanding Access In One Swipe, details the potential impact of the proposal, including how integrating Metro-North and LIRR fares with the subway and bus would cut commute times in half, improve job access, extend the reach of the transit system, and relieve overcrowding on the subway – all at the fraction of the cost of new station and tunnel construction.

“New York City’s transit system is in crisis. While commuter rail tracks carve through the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, working New Yorkers are stuck behind an unacceptable paywall, forced to pay an exorbitant amount or spend extra hours stuck on overcrowded subways and buses,” said Comptroller Stringer. “New Yorkers shouldn’t be held hostage by the MTA to get home to their families, and they shouldn’t have to spend extra hours crammed on the subway and bus to make ends meet. Affordable Metro-North and LIRR service would give New Yorkers more time with their family and friends, cut congestion on our streets and in our subways, and expand economic accessibility for hundreds of thousands of people. The MTA should stand clear of the doors, not hold service from the straphangers who need it most.”

Highlights of Stringer’s analysis include:

City Commuters Stranded by Steep Rail Costs

  • In total, 38 Metro-North and LIRR stations serve 31 neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, home to 1.4 million residents and 327,000 jobs;
  • 18 of these stations are located in neighborhoods that sit beyond the reach of the subway system. In these under-served neighborhoods, 82 percent of residents are people of color and 41 percent are foreign-born – much higher than the city-wide averages of 68 percent and 37 percent, respectively;
  • One way, rush-hour tickets from all 13 Bronx stations and 14 Queens stations to central Manhattan cost $9.25 and $10.25, respectively. With the additional cost of bus and subway transfers, the financial burden of commuter rail is prohibitive for working New Yorkers;
  • From 2000 to 2017, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn were responsible for a staggering 84 percent of the city’s net employment growth and 73 percent of its residential growth. As the city’s economy and population expand, its transit system must keep pace, improving rail access outside of Manhattan.

Neglected Commuter Rail Lines Could Cut Commute Times in Half

  • Exorbitant fares limit the use of commuter rail stations leaving peak-hour trains with significant spare capacity and off-peak commuter trains more than half empty. The average rush-hour LIRR train, for instance, has 233 empty seats during the morning rush and 282 during the evening peak;
  • Yet these under-capacity trains skip over city stations nearly 80 percent of the time during the morning rush, only stopping to pick up city commuters a handful of times; and,
  • As a result, city commuters in these areas spend hours longer on buses and subways to get around:
    • While the LIRR to Penn Station takes 35 minutes from Queens Village and 25 minutes from Auburndale, the same trip on the subway and local bus takes over an hour at 80 minutes and 75 minutes, respectively.
    • The Metro-North to Grand Central, meanwhile, takes 30 minutes from Riverdale and 25 minutes from Belmont. Traveling by subway and local bus would take up to three times longer, at 90 minutes and 50 minutes, respectively.

As part of the report, Comptroller Stringer called on the MTA to improve job access, reduce commute times, extend the reach of the transit system, and relieve overcrowding by:

  1. Reducing fares for all in-city commuter rail trips and making more local stops. The MTA should take full advantage of its rail assets. Whether traveling via bus, subway, or commuter trail, all in-city MTA trips should cost $2.75 and allow free transfers. Moreover, LIRR and Metro-North trains should make more local stops in neighborhoods like St. Albans, Queens Village, Laurelhurst, Murray Hill, Spuyten Duyvil, Tremont, and Williamsbridge, so that New Yorkers can actually take advantage of this rapid rail service.
  2. Connecting bus service with commuter rail stations. For many commuters, the gaps between bus and rail infrastructure makes transferring between the systems and using rail altogether too difficult. In northeast Queens, for instance, while dozens of bus lines converge at the terminus of the 7 Train, several LIRR stations are multiple blocks from a single bus stop, with similar patterns in northwest Bronx and southeast Queens. As a more equitable fare policy is introduced, NYCT Bus and MTA Bus should provide more frequent service to these commuter rail stations.
  3. Making all commuter stations ADA accessible. Half of the Metro-North and LIRR stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens are not currently ADA-accessible. Much like the existing paywall that surrounds commuter rail stations, these physical barriers to access have the effect of denying service to thousands of young families, seniors, and other mobility-impaired travelers every single day. This should be rectified as soon as possible, adding new elevators, ramps, and wayfinding upgrades for the sight- and hearing-impaired.

The proposal to open up commuter rail service at 38 Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens stations for working New Yorkers would cost an estimated $50 million per year – a fraction of the $7 billion and 10 years it cost to open four new stations along Second Avenue and in Hudson Yards. Taking these steps will demand improved coordination between the MTA’s Metro-North, LIRR, and New York City Transit divisions, which for too long have operated in silos. It may also require more frequent commuter rail service to handle increased ridership – though the MTA should begin by focusing on filling the spare capacity that already exists. Fortunately, the necessary technological and infrastructure upgrades to achieve these goals are already in the pipeline.

“The Queens community appreciates Comptroller Stringer coming to Murray Hill, Flushing,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “According to Comptroller Stringer’s August 2018 economic study, the greater Flushing community has had a 23% increase in business growth in the last six years making it #4 city-wide. It showed that nearly 40% of the workers commute by public transportation. I believe that overcrowding on the #7 line can be alleviated with a reduced LIRR fare similar to the Atlantic Ticket recently introduced in Southeast Queens. People should be allowed to pay the MTA monthly fare of $121 on the LIRR plus a slight surcharge of $29 per month for a flat rate of $150 for 30 days.”

“New Yorkers pay far too much and travel far too long on their daily commutes. I thank Comptroller Stringer for highlighting the need for relief in outer borough transit deserts like Queens and join him in calling upon the MTA to improve connectedness between all forms of public transportation,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic.

Assemblymember Ron Kim said, “Countless people rely on the LIRR every day for their transportation needs, yet it’s clear the public’s confidence in the MTA is near a historic low. Improving the transportation efficiency of this service while reducing fares to ensure greater access for all New Yorkers is a step in the right direction. I thank Comptroller Stringer for his leadership on this important issue, and join him in calling for these needed improvements to our transportation infrastructure.”

“The district that I represent in Eastern Queens has no subway stations and some of the slowest buses in the City. The Long Island Rail Road is often the most reasonable choice for commuters in our neighborhoods, and it should be affordable,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchick. “I agree with New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer’s proposal to lower the fare for in-city riders to that of a subway ride; New Yorkers should not be paying triple the price for their commutes because of where they live.”

“This report validates the call for permanency of the reduced fare Atlantic Ticket pilot that has benefited Southeast Queens LIRR commuters for several months now,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller. “More importantly, it demonstrates that alternative fare structures, as recommended by the Governor’s own Fix NYC advisory panel, are a viable solution for outer borough residents who would otherwise be impacted by any proposed zone pricing plan. I thank Comptroller Stringer for his dedication to ensuring there is transportation equity for all of our City’s commuters.”

“While so much attention has been focused on fixing and modernizing New York City’s existing transit system, proposals to expand service have largely fallen by the wayside. Building new subways and overhauling the bus network will take years to complete, but opening commuter rail lines to MetroCards can be done much quicker. Neighborhoods with insufficient access to transit typically have the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes. However, by utilizing the commuter rail’s full potential, we have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of many New Yorkers who need better access to jobs, housing, and education,” said Liam Blank, Advocacy and Policy Manager, Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Danny Pearlstein, Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director said, “With subways regularly melting down and bus service slower than ever, New York’s neighborhoods often feel further and further apart from one another. Longer, less predictable commutes mean missed work and family time and less of a chance for New Yorkers to play an active role in community life. As we approach the need to modernize the subway and get buses moving again, commuter rail fare integration is an important part of the conversation for people in many city neighborhoods. Transit riders should be grateful to Comptroller Stringer for this analysis and for elevating the opportunities that exist to better leverage our infrastructure and make it work harder for more New Yorkers.”

“Comptroller Stringer’s report highlights how attractive and affordable commuter rail service can be an important transportation option for residents in many neighborhoods that are not well served by subways,” said Chris Jones, Senior Vice President and Chief Planner at Regional Plan Association. “Building on the Long Island Rail Road’s pilot program of reduced fares for Brooklyn and Queens riders, lower fares should be made permanent for both LIRR and Metro-North riders.”

“Frequent service, affordable fares, and connections to local buses would make commuter rail a real asset for city residents, not something that passes them by. By making full use of its commuter rail stations, the MTA could take pressure off the crowded subways and give residents of Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn faster ways to get around,” said Steven Higashide, Director of Research, TransitCenter.

To read the full report, click here.

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