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.”

4 thoughts on “Stringer Calls on MTA to Lower Fares for Metro-North, LIRR Trips Within NYC

  1. The commuter lines are packed by the times the trains cross into NYC. Adding stops in the city will only add time to the commutes of suburban passengers.

    • There already are stops in the city, and local trains already stop there. The issue the comptroller is raising is about the fares charged.

  2. As a suburbanite, I think that the Comptroller’s plan is bad. It’s not going to pay for itself, so who is? It seems to ignore the current funding schemes of commuter lines that get paid for by the fares being higher, and by the subsidy provided by the suburban county governments who pay to have a faster way into the city. While he quotes that there are empty seats at rush hour: I’ve never seen them on Babylon or Mountauk branch services during rush hours. If he looked at history of his negligent city’s policies, he might see how we got here and how we need to go back to what we had to achieve what he wants.

    Back in the 1920’s, the city of New York had a system of rapid-transit operations along its commuter railroads. They were all electrified as part of the 1908 mandate to eliminate steam power, they had stops every couple of blocks, and they served the local public. Along lines that were often 4 tracks or more, the outboard 2 tracks would split their time between in-city local services, and shorter-haul services that ended at the satellite cities like Yonkers, White Planes, New Rochelle and Jamaica. The growth of the suburban electrified lines started from the first service block extensions from these routes.

    These lines within city limits usually had low fares dictated by the city to be the five cents, but that there became a problem as inflation devalued that fare to a punishing deficit. Unable to raise fares, many resorted to gutting the service to win the case to abandon these services, because the railroads had to make a profit back then. Combined with growing popularity of farther-out service blocks, and the extension of electrification to farther cities like Croton, White Plains, New Haven, Babylon and Hempstead, those track slots were increasingly valuable to less money-hemorrhaging services. Lines like the New York, Westchester & Boston ultimately folded under such policies, while services along the Eastern Bronx and the Bay Ridge line were killed off even when allowed to raise fares because of competing transit lines build directly next to them.

    By the 60’s there were some subsidies for surviving lines, but the fare & subsidy scheme still favored the greater goal of these commuter railroads; suburban commuters. The city didn’t want to pay to run effectively additional service blocks, so the number of stations in the city limits was hollowed out. By the 80’s this decline stopped, but that’s the low point we’re at.

    As a pilot project, yeah lowering fares in some situations for in-city stations might work for a bit. Changing patterns like the Atlantic Branch might be better used in the fashion even. If you want it all to work though, build up the heavy-rail commuter corridors’ capacities by using an in-city and near-city subsidy to operate subway-like services along those lines… but subsidize those the way you do the subway. That way you can piggyback off of some shared assets of transportation to better utilize existing corridors.

  3. To enact my plan, modify what existed to today’s setting.

    Hudson line could have 30 stops between 125th and Yonkers by putting a turnaround yard and another platform in Yonkers on land that either exists or could be condemned to do so. The fourth track along the Harlem River would go back in, and then you’d be largely how things were before. It’d effectively be another subway line without having to 100% build a new subway, as the right of way and facilities are largely present or shared. Problem is it’d run out of the city, so Yonkers would have to help you with that subsidy.

    If you want to get fancy, you could relay the Yonkers Branch of the Putnam line, which takes a different route into Yonkers via the east side on an area that is transit starved. You’d have to rebuild the right of way as the bridges & track are gone, but condemning buildings and moving highways you wouldn’t have to do. That line could even be plugged into a subway extension. Historically it was electric with mu’s lighter than today’s trains, that shared tracks with regular trains before climbing a ramp to the Els at the Polo grounds; evolution to a heavy rail or subway is fine.

    Harlem/New Haven Services could be improved by replacing old stations, but the turnaround facility didn’t quite exist. Upgrading New Rochelle (and getting them to help pay for it) could make a good site for a pocket yard. It needs flyovers as-is at its junction, but such an investment can be shared by the equally improved Amtrak long-distance runs and New Haven medium runs. It can also be a terminus to a Triborough Route along to Bay Ridge.

    -Heck, maybe the MTA needs a third suborganization for commuter rail block services just within the city limits?-

    Replacing the Rockaway Line at least as far down as JFK could see replacement of mainline services as far east as Whitepot Junction, all on right of way that still exists. The city even OWNS it already!

    I think the problem faced is that they want something for nothing, because the plans I’m putting forth won’t be free and would require the city to invest. That being said, it’d set up the city’s mass transit to work more like how the major cities elsewhere in the world treat their railroads. Long-haul lines can have medium-distance services shared in places, with shorter-haul routes too!

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