Adi Talwar

Iris De La Cruz, 23, says taking the Metro North from her home in Morris Heights to her job near Grand Central station cuts her commute time in half compared to taking the bus and subway, but she still only uses the line ‘once in a blue’ because it’s too expensive.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants the MTA to lower the cost of LIRR and Metro-North rides within the city to $2.75, what he says will cut travel times for residents in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the commuter rail lines operate, but where current fares make them too expensive to be a viable transit option for many, according to a report released Tuesday.

Currently, rides on the Metro North and LIRR cost more-per-mile for riders traveling within the city than for customers traveling longer distances to and from the suburbs, City Limits reported in June. The price difference is enough to keep many residents from using the commuter rails, even if doing so would significantly shorten their trips compared to taking the bus or subway.

“Financially, it was becoming too detrimental,” Bronx resident Iris De La Cruz told City Limits earlier this year about commuting to work from her home in Morris Heights on the Metro-North, where a one-way peak ticket to Grand Central costs $9.25. She usually opts to take the bus and subway instead, despite the fact that doing so about doubles her commute time.

“I just feel like it’s not fair because it’s kind of like exclusive to only a certain amount of people,” she said of the Metro-North at the time. “Not everyone can afford this kind of investment every single day to commute to work.”

Stringer’s proposal would lower commuter rail fares within the five boroughs to $2.75, the same as a single-ride MetroCard, and would allow free transfers to MTA subways and buses. He also calls for the MTA to increase LIRR and Metro-North service to the 38 local stops in New York City where the lines operate, many of which are in neighborhoods underserved by other public transit options.

“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,” Stringer said in a statement.

Commuter trains have the capacity to fit more city riders, he says: the average rush-hour LIRR train has 233 empty seats during peak morning hours and 282 during the evening rush, according to the report. Stringer calls for the new fares to be “phased in” over the next four years, to coincide with completion of the MTA’s East Side Access project, which will expand LIRR service to Grand Central.

The comptroller’s proposal would cost the MTA an estimated $50 million per year, though Stringer argues that’s just “a fraction” of what the authority is shelling out to add new subway stations along Second Avenue and at Hudson Yards.

“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,” Stringer said.

Transit advocates have been calling for reduced commuter rail fares in transit-starved parts of the city for years. The MTA has introduced similar discounts in the past, including the CityTicket, which allows riders to use LIRR and Metro-North lines within the city on weekends for a discounted one-way fare of $4.25.

This summer, the MTA began offering the “Atlantic Ticket” which lowers the price of a one-way ride between Atlantic Terminal and nine LIRR stations in Brooklyn and Queens to $5, compared to the current fare of $10.25 during peak and $7.50 during off-peak hours. The initiative is being used as a field study for the MTA to see how the lower fare impacts ridership.

In a statement, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota disputed Stringer’s assertion that the city’s commuter trains are underutilized, and called the comptroller’s proposal “irresponsible” because it fails to say how the MTA would pay for the lower fares.

“We received Comptroller Stringer’s report late this morning and will review it, particularly the assertions about excess capacity with which we disagree,” Lhota said. “The MTA is not a financially self-sustaining organization and for the recommendations of the City Comptroller to be implemented, a subsidy is required. It is fiscally irresponsible to make a transit benefit recommendation without identifying a source of funding.”