By Scott Stringer
Special to the Eagle
There are 181 train stations in Queens and the Bronx. All 181 are operated by the MTA, providing service between the boroughs with a mix of express and local options. But not all 181 stations are equal.
In fact, at 35 of these train stations, a short trip to Manhattan can cost as much as $10.25 – compared to the price of a MetroCard swipe at the rest.
That’s because those 35 stations carry Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service. And while last year, the City sent $97 million to LIRR and Metro-North for station maintenance and operations, those lines are all but inaccessible to New York City residents.
As it stands, commuter rail has established a two-tiered transit system that cuts through our city, systematically pricing out New York City residents, while providing faster and more reliable service to the city’s suburbs. It’s not just unfair to the communities who live too far from the subway lines, but can’t afford the steep price of commuter rail – it’s irrational at a time when we need to expand service, invest in transit, and find efficient solutions to our mass transit challenges.
It’s past time we move the MTA’s commuter rail companies into the 21st century and eliminate this two-tier system once and for all. One idea I’ve put forward is to lower the fare for in-city commuters and integrate the system with our subways and buses.
In recent years, the MTA has begun to grapple with their backwards fare policies, introducing a series of hard-won reforms. The “Atlantic Ticket,” for instance, was launched last June to provide reduced fares for LIRR trips between Southeast Queens and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal. While it was originally intended as a six-month pilot, the program will now be “tested” for a second year – unfortunately, there are no plans to include travel to Penn Station. This same pattern holds true for the “City Ticket,” which originally offered a $2.50 fare for weekend travel on commuter rail within the five boroughs – but has now jumped to a $4.50 fare despite never extending to off-peak, weekday hours, as first proposed.
It’s time to move beyond this confusing patchwork of fare policies and move towards a $2.75 fare and free transfers for all in-city trips, regardless of whether that trip is on commuter rail, or our subways and buses. Every New Yorker— whether they live in Eastern Queens, Northern Bronx, or central Brooklyn — deserves fast, reliable, and affordable public transit, period.
If we are truly committed to slashing commute times, reducing carbon emissions, and solidifying our five borough economy, then we need to harness the full potential of our transit assets, not keep them locked away from New Yorkers. We need transit equity and we need it now.
Scott Stringer is the New York City comptroller.