LIRR riders in Oceanside, Island Park bemoan fare hike proposal

Christina Daly for LI Herald

December 10, 2020

Originally published in Long Island Herald on December 10, 2020.

Many local residents and elected leaders say they are angry that transit officials are mulling a Long Island Rail Road fare increase amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing an increase in monthly ticket prices by up to 4.3 percent, weekly tickets, by as much as 5.9 percent, and other types of ticket, by up to 11.2 percent. The MTA is also considering several other options, including instituting a “flat fare” for all LIRR trips between Long Island and New York City. A vote on the increases is expected in January or February, and if they were to pass, they would likely go into effect in March.

Dana Gray-Lanyo, of Island Park, said she commutes via the LIRR daily, so the rate hike would greatly affect her. “I have no choice,” she said. “If they raise the tickets, I’ll still be taking the LIRR to work.”

Given the Covid-19 risks associated with taking the train, Kelly Ann Foster said she might return to carpooling, rather than taking the LIRR, if prices were to rise again. “When taking the train and subway stops being a significant fiscal savings to offset the health risk and increasing general unpleasant nature of taking mass transit,” Foster said, “you’ve defeated the purpose.”

Responding to a request for comment, an MTA representative directed the Herald to the agency’s 2021 budget and four-year plan. The MTA is experiencing its worst financial crisis ever because of decreased ridership during the pandemic, and has requested $12 billion in emergency aid from the federal government. Additionally, the MTA has kept its fare increase in line with the practice it has had in place since 2009.

LIRR ridership has dropped to a quarter of what it was at before the pandemic.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran spoke out against the potential increases before transit officials at a virtual public hearing on Dec. 1. In a statement afterward, she urged the federal government to fund immediate aid for the MTA so rates do not increase while many commuters are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

“We must ensure that the MTA has a plan that provides long-term sustainability and shows real savings before we burden riders with a fare increase,” Curran said. “I ask that the MTA board vote no on a fare increase.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, was among those who chastised the MTA for considering a rate hike. “The MTA’s plan to further increase fares on Long Islanders during this extraordinarily difficult time will depress ridership and disincentivize commuters from getting back on the trains,” he said in a statement. “While my colleagues and I will continue to fight for more funding for the MTA from Washington, asking Long Islanders to pay even more as they return to work will only hurt ridership and our economy as a whole.”

Kaminsky has criticized the MTA for poor service and proposed rate hikes in the past. In 2019, he passed legislation in the state budget that directed a comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA.

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, also attended the hearing, and voiced her opposition to the hikes. “Our hardworking essential workers deserve more as they battle a pandemic, and the LIRR needs to ensure a safe ride where all commuters adhere to the pandemic guidelines,” Griffin said. “That is a way to increase ridership, not fare increases.”