‘A magnificent victory’: Rockaway elected officials announce breakthrough with MTA in step toward railroad equity

Far Rockaway LIRR CityTicket
State Senator James Sanders joined his colleagues to announce the MTA will include the Far Rockaway LIRR station in its CityTicket program taking a step toward transit equity.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Generations of Far Rockaway residents have been plagued with some of the longest commute times in the nation along with additional expenses, but on May 4, state Senator James Sanders and his colleagues in government announced a breakthrough.

The MTA has agreed to expand its CityTicket program to finally include the Far Rockaway LIRR station allowing commuters to purchase $5 flat-fare tickets for off-peak hours for intracity trips. Sanders, who has pressed for Far Rockaway’s inclusion in the program for more than a decade when he was on the City Council, was able to get his proposal into the Senate One House Budget resolution this year as a negotiating position.

“What a magnificent victory. After leading the fight for over 15 years, and being joined by other elected officials, I am truly grateful the MTA finally listened to the demands and needs of the Southeast Queens community,” Sanders said. “Southeast Queens was ignored by the MTA from their discount ticket programs for too long.”

State Senator James Sanders joined his colleagues to announce the MTA will include the Far Rockaway LIRR station in its CityTicket program taking a step toward transit equity.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Sanders applauded MTA president Janno Lieber and the agency for finally realizing that the Rockaways are part of New York City. The Far Rockaway CityTicket will be sold from vending machines at the station or on TrainTime, the MTA mobile phone app for purchases.

Ticket booths at the Far Rockaway Long Island Rail Road station.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“LIRR intends to implement this pilot concept as part of the upcoming fare and toll change proceedings in Summer 2023. Folding Far Rockaway Station into the CityTicket promotions will allow MTA to continue supporting mobility, employment, and equity in the region, and we embrace the opportunity to do so,” MTA spokeswoman Kayla Shults said. “CityTicket is part of a broader commitment by Governor Hochul and the MTA to allow NYC residents to take full advantage of commuter railroads and we are excited that new technology allows us to expand its availability to residents of the Rockaways.”

When launched in 2004, CityTicket was available at all commuter train stations in the city except Far Rockaway because riders from that station cross over into Nassau County before continuing back into the city.

“Knowing what our transportation challenges have been for our entire lives, it’s never been easy to commute, to get out of Far Rockaway where we choose to live and love our community,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said. “This makes it easier for our youth to get jobs. This community never had the access to opportunities like the other areas have.”

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, the chair of the transportation committee, said the expansion of the program will save precious time for community members who rely on commuter rail.

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers speaks at a news conference at the Far Rockaway Long Island Rail Road station on Thursday, May 4, 2023.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“This is a result of years of advocacy by the elected officials standing here today but also by the riders of our community who have for far too long been forced to overpay for rides off of the peninsula,” Brooks-Powers said. “Today is a victory for transportation equity, it represents a step towards a fairer, more affordable public transit system and it recognizes that Far Rockaway deserves our fair share of the city and state’s investments in public transit.”

Councilwoman Joann Ariola also sits on the transportation committee.

“Southeast Queens has been overlooked for far too long,” she said. “It’s great to see this program finally coming to Rockaway – this area is finally starting to get the resources and attention it deserves.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards reiterated a point he made during his State of the Borough Address at the start of the week.

“It’s easier to get to Florida by plane than Manhattan by train from this stop some days,” Richards said.

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson drilled down on that point.

“I ride the railroad or the A train when I’m headed up to Albany every week and I know how expensive it can be for residents who use the railroad,” he said. “But this is huge because the Rockaways have amongst the longest commute times in the city.”

One week earlier, Anderson hosted a public meeting at the Idlewild Park Preserve Environmental Science Learning Center to address the transit issue with his southeast Queens constituents.

“Southeast Queens is largely a transit desert, where residents may need to walk at least 15 minutes or catch a ride to the nearest subway or bus stop,” he said. “Working-class families in southeast Queens cannot survive, much less thrive, without public transit, and we need to start giving this crucial resource the investment it deserves.”

Sanders proposed a solution with a nod to the newly-passed state budget that includes the launch of a pilot program providing a free bus route in each borough.

“The Q113 is the perfect bus line that can go to Jamaica, adding to the commerce of Jamaica, adding to the workforce in Jamaica, and to those of us going to York College in Jamaica,” Sanders said.” The Q113 quickly comes to mind.”

Pheffer Amato said Far Rockaway’s inclusion into the CityTicket program is a good start.

“To the MTA, we’re just getting started, so don’t think we’re not going to be bothering you or that you can take a breather,” she said. “We will not stop.”