Looking to go further than the MTA’s current pilot for the reduced-fare Freedom Ticket, which allows riders on the LIRR’s Atlantic Branch to buy a single fare for subway, bus and commuter rail service, Comptroller Scott Stringer has released a proposal calling for a one-ticket ride, equivalent to a single MetroCard swipe, for every LIRR and Metro-North station in New York City.
Stringer’s report, Expanding Access in One Swipe, calls for three major changes in how commuter railroads interact with the city:
- Any MTA trip in the city should be priced at $2.75, as opposed to the current $9.25 and $10.25 for a ticket from mid-Manhattan from the Bronx and Queens; rides should also come with a free transfer onto subways and buses.
- Buses should drop people off closer to, and more frequently to, commuter rail stations in Queens and the Bronx.
- Every Metro-North and LIRR station ADA-accessible, as currently only half of the stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens meet that definition.
The proposal is influenced by both the growth in the number of jobs and residents have exploded in the outer boroughs (“79 percent of this residential growth and 88 percent of new jobs” took place outside of Manhattan between 2000 and 2017, per the report), and the fact that fewer people in the outer boroughs are working in Manhattan—just 36 percent of them, according to the report.
But Stringer also argues the shift to a one-fare ride is a matter of basic economic fairness. The 13 neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens that have some kind of commuter rail but no subway stations also have majority non-white, rent-burdened populations with “little to spare for the exorbitant commuter rail fares.” And in the Bronx, dozens of rush hour trains pass stations like Melrose, Tremont, and Woodlawn.
Stringer also pointed to a single-fare commuter rail system as a way to relieve subway overcrowding. Particularly on the 7 train, where passengers per car has jumped by 29 percent between 2010 and 2016, LIRR or Metro-North could alleviate some of the stress by bringing passengers from Queens to Manhattan. Those trains, according to the report, average 233 empty seats between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m..
The move to the single-fare ride can be undertaken as the MTA fully institutes its contactless payment system over the next four years, the report concludes; in the meantime, LIRR and Metro-North should reduce the price for in-city travel and make more local stops at the existing commuter rail stations. Beyond local elected officials, the proposal was also praised by transit advocates from groups like the Riders Alliance, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and the Straphangers Campaign.
“Frequent service, affordable fares, and connections to local buses would make commuter rail a real asset for city residents, not something that passes them by,” Transit Center’s director of research, Steven Higashide, said in a press release announcing the report.