May marked the 42nd anniversary for the successful Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road Mail & Ride ticket program. Over 160,000 Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County residents benefit from this program, riding the LIRR on a daily basis to commute from home to work.
Those of us commuting from Great Neck, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Auburndale, Broadway, Murray Hill and Flushing on the Port Washington branch don’t have to change at Jamaica. Our trip averages about 30 minutes each way to and from Penn Station.
The resumption of half-hour, weekend service on the Port Washington LIRR branch in November 2012 continues to prove, once again, why it pays to live in Great Neck. For those without monthly or weekly tickets, same-day, weekend City Zone tickets can be purchased at reduced prices. It is easier on Saturdays and Sundays to attend Mets games, US Open, Arthur Ash stadium, Flushing Meadow Park, Queens Zoo, Madison Square Garden activities and Broadway shows on a regular basis.
Those of us in the know already moved to communities adjacent to LIRR Port Washington branch stations years ago. The Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington school districts, along with those in neighboring Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside and Auburndale, in Queens are some of the best in the Metropolitan New York area. We have great air quality, along with a low crime rate, abundant parks, libraries, shopping, entertainment, movie theaters, hospitals and medical facilities.
As a long-time Mail & Ride member, starting in the class of 1983 before retiring in January 2015, I know first-hand how user-friendly LIRR Mail & Ride is. Few remember a brief period later in the 1980’s when the LIRR offered a one-year ticket, which arrived monthly. By prepaying for your monthly pass one year in advance, you received a 4 percent discount. Sadly, there were only several hundred of us who took advantage of this amazing bargain, so it was quickly discontinued.
Fast forward to today and you can also purchase an unlimited Metro Card with your LIRR monthly ticket. You end up with savings on your LIRR monthly fare, plus unlimited monthly NYCT rides. This affords incredible savings for those who use the subway to and from Penn Station, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Woodside, Jamaica or Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The savings are multiplied with local trips at lunch time or after work. The card also provides you with unlimited free transfers to NYCT, MTA Bus and Nassau Inter County Express NICE (formerly Long Island Bus).
More and more LIRR riders continue to purchase tickets via Mail & Ride, ticket vending machines or various Apps. In coming years, even more new fare-collection technology will be available. As a result, the concept of staffed ticket windows and offices may go the way of the dinasaurs.
Governor Cuomo proudly proclaims that relocation of the LIRR waiting room and ticket office from 7th Avenue to a new location between 8th & 9th Avenue, as part of the new Amtrak Moynihan Farley Building station, will be a great benefit to riders. Creation of a new station, ticket office and renovated platforms below the Farley Building between 8th and 9th Avenue sounds great on paper. It will only benefit a minority of LIRR riders whose destinations are west of 8th Avenue or utilize the 8th Avenue A, C and E subways.
An overwhelming majority of riders exit to destinations east of 7th Avenue. This includes using the 1, 2 & 3 subways with some transferring at Times Square for either the shuttle or 7 subway to access Grand Central Terminal or walking to Herald Square to access the B,D.F,N,R,Q & W subway lines or PATH.
LIRR trains arriving and departing from platform space farther west in Penn Station will result in longer walks for a majority of riders coming east of 7th Avenue. Many would argue that this may be a waste of several hundred million dollars as part of the $3 billion new Amtrak Moynihan Farley Building station. Most LIRR riders would prefer that these monies be spent on basic track, interlockings and signal maintenance at Penn Station rather than a new ticket office and waiting area.
Better maintenance scheduled on a more frequent regular basis might help avoid the increasing number of train delays and cancellations. Any survey of riders would tell you that it is clearly a higher priority than any new ticket office and waiting room at Penn Station.
Larry Penner, of Great Neck, is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years in the transportation field for US DOT Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.