An open letter to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota

An open letter to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota

An open letter to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota:

We write today to bring to your attention the problems posed by a proposed revision to the “Freedom Ticket” plan that would significantly limit the plan’s effectiveness by preventing commuters from using Freedom Tickets to travel to and from Penn Station.

As you know, we have been avid supporters of the “Freedom Ticket” plan put forward by the New York City Transit Riders Council in 2015. The plan, if enacted as originally proposed, would ease the commutes of thousands of southeast Queens residents by allowing them to buy discounted tickets for the Long Island Rail Road, the rail line that offers southeast Queens the fastest transit option for getting to and from Midtown Manhattan but is currently cost prohibitive for many.

Specifically, the original proposal would have allowed passengers entering or exiting the LIRR at six southeast Queens stations (Rosedale, Laurelton, Locust Manor, St. Albans, Hollis and Queens Village) to take a one-way trip to or from Penn Station in Manhattan or Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn using a “Freedom Ticket” sold for a discounted price of $6.50. The Freedom Ticket would also include a free transfer to New York City Transit subways and buses. The present plan by the MTA, however, only allows the Freedom Ticket fare to Atlantic Terminal and excludes Penn Station.

The Freedom Ticket has great potential to reduce the cost and time burdens faced by southeast Queens transit users who commute to Manhattan. Right now these residents must either pay a high price (currently $10.25 for a one-way peak fare) for a quick trip on the LIRR, or a lower fare for a much longer trip via New York City Transit.

The NYCTRC’s proposal would give southeast Queens residents a LIRR fare to and from Manhattan that is 37 percent cheaper than the one-way peak fare. It would also give transit users who do not currently use the LIRR a more affordable way to travel and would cut their commuting times almost in half, according to a 2015 NYCTRC report.

These cost and time benefits would be a boon to southeast Queens residents and do much to make southeast Queens more accessible to the rest of the city and make the area an even more attractive place to live, work and visit. The NYCTRC proposal has thus received our most heartfelt endorsement.

The inferior Freedom Ticket pilot program now under consideration, however, would force users seeking to get to and from Midtown Manhattan to transfer at Atlantic Terminal, a transfer that would substantially increase their commuting times compared to what they would be if they could travel directly between Penn Station and southeast Queens on the LIRR. This pilot would also not accurately be able to determine the amount of relief to the subway lines that the original Freedom Ticket would provide. We see very little change possible with this pilot.

For example, a weekday LIRR train departing Rosedale Station at 7:44 a.m. gets to Penn Station in only 34 minutes, which is about the time it takes for an LIRR train to get from Rosedale Station to Atlantic Terminal. But LIRR riders who transfer at Atlantic Terminal face a subway ride of at least a half-hour to reach Penn Station. That means a commute from Rosedale to Penn Station that takes only 34 minutes on the LIRR takes more than an hour for a commuter who transfers from the LIRR to the subway at Atlantic Terminal.

Given this significant limitation, without the option of Penn Station, I expect few southeast Queens residents would use Freedom Tickets if the pilot program is implemented in its current state. The pilot is therefore being set up for failure, an outcome that is unacceptable given the huge amount of promise that the original Freedom Ticket plan held. Therefore, the proposed six-month pilot to Atlantic Terminal is unacceptable, as it will not properly serve SEQ residents, allow for sufficient outreach in the community, nor gauge their use of a long term program.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

Melinda Katz, President, Borough of Queens

Gregory Meeks, Member of Congress, 5th Congressional District

Leroy Comrie, New York State Senator, 14th Senatorial District

Alicia Hyndman, Member of Assembly, 29th Assembly District

Adrienne Adams, Member of the New York City Council, 28th Council District

Clyde Vanel, Member of Assembly, 33rd Assembly District

I. Daneek Miller, Member of the New York City Council, 27th Council District

James Sanders, New York State Senator, 10th Senatorial District