The MTA is extending a pilot program that offers cheaper LIRR tickets to Atlantic Terminal for riders in Brooklyn and some Queens neighborhoods—and transit advocates hope to see the model expanded to other outer borough areas, including those served by Metro-North.
The program, dubbed the Atlantic Ticket, will be renewed for another year, LIRR President Phillip Eng announced Monday. It lets riders travel between Brooklyn and seven LIRR stations in Queens into Atlantic Terminal for a discounted $5 one-way fare, instead of the normal cost of $10.25 at peak times. A weekly unlimited-ride ticket costs $60 under the Atlantic pilot and includes a transfer to NYC Transit subways and buses, what would normally run riders in southeast Queens $104.25, according to the MTA.
“It’s a common goal of providing more mass transit opportunities to our public, and we’re seeing positive results,” Eng said Monday during a meeting of the MTA Board’s LIRR committee.
During the first year, customers purchased 875,000 Atlantic Tickets, or 1.3 million trips, averaging 31,000 rides a week, according to MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan. The program costs the MTA a net $1 million to $2 million annually, the agency said. A survey of Atlantic Ticket customers found that 11 percent used to travel into Penn Station but switched their destination to Atlantic Terminal thanks to the pilot, while another 30 percent of customers said they previously travelled by bus or subway.
These changing travel patterns are “helping to balance riders out across the western terminals,” Eng said. He did note, however, that “a few morning peak trains” are above capacity between Jamaica and Atlantic terminal—the most popular trip under the pilot—something the LIRR is “carefully monitoring.” Another hiccup has been users purchasing the Atlantic Ticket for rides into Penn Station, which aren’t eligible for the discount, Eng said.
Transit advocates cheered the MTA’s decision to renew the pilot, and say they hope the Atlantic Ticket model can be adapted to other neighborhoods served by the MTA’s commuter rail lines, including the Metro-North’s stations in The Bronx. The LIRR and Metro-North offer quicker commutes for many outer borough riders compared to the subway or bus, but are significantly more expensive.
“We have this great rail infrastructure running through the boroughs, but sometimes folks can’t afford it,” says Andrew Albert, an MTA board member and chair of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC). The group has been advocating for years for reduced commuter rail fares in the outer boroughs—the Atlantic Ticket is based on their own “Freedom Ticket” proposal, which would apply citywide—on the grounds that doing so could drastically cut commute times for many riders, and help relieve crowding on overburdened subway and bus routes.
“We would like to see it implemented on a larger scale,” says PCAC Executive Director Lisa Daglian, who said they would ultimately like to see Penn Station included for the discount. “We’d need to see what the capacity issues are.”
Travel between the MTA’s different operating agencies will also be easier in the future, she notes, as the agency moves forward with its adoption of OMNY, a new digital fare payment system, paving the way for more seamless transfers between the LIRR, NYC Transit and Metro-North.
“Encouraging people to get out of their cars, off express buses, and to take the most convenient rail option—whether it’s subway, whether it’s commuter rail,” Daglian says, “[gives] people the one thing they can’t buy, and that’s time.”