Queens officials blast proposed changes to MTA ‘Freedom Ticket’ plan for discounted LIRR rides

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The “Freedom Ticket” plan, eyed as an affordable solution for southeast Queens’ public transportation problems, may prove to be more trouble than it’s worth if the MTA approves an alternate proposal.

A contingent of southeast Queens representatives and Borough President Melinda Katz wrote to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota on March 6 expressing their disapproval of a proposed change to the Freedom Ticket Plan put forth back in 2015. The contingent included Congressman Gregory Meeks, state Senators Leroy Comrie and James Sanders, Assembly members Alicia Hyndman and Clyde Vanel and Council members Adrienne Adams and I. Daneek Miller.

The MTA board had previously approved a six-month trial run for the Freedom Ticket based on an idea from the New York City Transit Riders Council. This would allow southeast Queens commuters to ride the Long Island Rail Road from six different stations to Manhattan or Brooklyn for $6.75; the fare would include free transfers between subways and buses. Riders currently pay for each LIRR and MTA subway or bus ride separately.

The Freedom Ticket would be available from the Rosedale, Laurelton, Locust Manor, St. Albans, Hollis and Queens Village stations and good for rides to Penn Station or Atlantic Terminal. However, the MTA is now considering an alternative Freedom Ticket plan that would only allow holders a discounted ride to and from Atlantic Terminal.

The alternate, the elected officials told Lhota, defeats the Freedom Ticket plan’s original purpose and sets the pilot program up for failure. Transferring at Atlantic Terminal only, they said, “would substantially increase” riders commute times rather than being able to travel directly to Penn Station.

Citing one example, the elected officials pointed out that the 7:44 a.m. train out of Rosedale takes 34 minutes to get to Penn Station — which is about the same time it takes for a LIRR train to travel from Rosedale to Atlantic Terminal. Forcing Freedom Ticket holders to get their free transfer to subways at Atlantic Terminal only would mean that riders must spend additional time on the subways reaching points in Manhattan.

“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,” they added. “We see very little change possible with this pilot.”

Limiting the Freedom Ticket to Atlantic Terminal would also dissuade southeast Queens residents from participating in the pilot program at all, the elected officials added, as riders would still be forced into making a two-train ride to Manhattan.

“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,” they told Lhota. “Therefore, the proposed six-month pilot to Atlantic Terminal is unacceptable, as it will not properly serve southeast Queens residents, allow for sufficient outreach in the community, nor gauge their use of a long-term program.”

When contacted by QNS on Wednesday morning, an MTA spokesperson said the authority would review the letter.

The MTA board is slated to discuss the Freedom Ticket plan further at its next scheduled meeting on March 21.