The MTA is surveying Long Island Rail Road commuters from parts of Nassau County near Queens to see if they'd drive into the city limits to save money if a fare reduction was put in place for commuter-rail travelers within the five boroughs.
A questionnaire posted online by a Reddit user commuting from Garden City on Long Island shows that the transit authority is concerned about the potential impact of Long Islanders driving an extra half an hour to take advantage of the Freedom Ticket system, a proposal by transit advocates that would cut intra-city LIRR and Metro North fares, and tack on a free subway and bus transfer. Currently, a single peak LIRR trip from, say, Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica, costs $10, whereas under the Freedom Ticket scheme it would cost $6.50. A separate proposal by members of the City Council calls for cutting the intra-city LIRR and Metro North fares to $2.75, the cost of a subway trip, also with free transfers.
Under one scheme proposed in the survey, a monthly intra-NYC LIRR pass with transfers would cost $116.50, the same price as a 30-day unlimited MetroCard. Currently, monthly LIRR passes for outer Queens residents run $218, and nearby Nassau County residents pay $252 a month, subway and bus rides not included.
The Freedom Ticket plan was pitched by the New York City Transit Riders Council, a commuter advisory committee to the MTA, as a way to help poor outer-borough residents who live far from subway stations and cannot afford commuter trains. In southeast Queens, where the Riders Council wants to run a trial of the program, the average resident spends approximately 15 hours a week commuting, more than twice the New York average, which says a lot because we have the longest commutes of any city in the country, according to a Comptroller's Office report. Also, the New Yorkers with the longest commutes tend to have little in the way of funds—two thirds of New Yorkers who commute more than an hour each way make less than $35,000.
The MTA's study of the idea is begrudging. Transit authority leaders previously rejected the Freedom Ticket proposal, saying it would cost $70 million a year in lost revenue. Also a possible problem: if desperate and/or maniacal Long Islanders arrived in Queens in droves looking to save money, already-traffic-clogged roads would be besieged by even more drivers, and it's not clear where in Queens they would park. Then again, driving halfway to work to find parking and board a crowded train would seem to defeat the purpose of commuting by train.
"I just think time is money and I just don't see people doing that," a commuter told ABC7. A crew for the station couldn't find any Garden City folks willing to drive to Queens for savings.
Anyhow, assessing these kinds of choices seems to be the point of the survey.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan cautioned against reading any intent into the questionnaire.
"The MTA is conducting a public opinion survey of customers in selected zip codes to help us evaluate the fare proposals that have been put forward," he told Gothamist. "We are not advocating for or against a specific position."
Donovan said the surveys MTA workers are conducting the surveys in person and by email with commuters in upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and southern Westchester County, as well as those in northern Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County. 15,300 people have been surveyed in all, he said.
The nearby Nassau County survey also queries our Long Island neighbors as to whether they'd do more shopping and hanging out in the city if the monthly Zone 4 fare was dropped from $252 to $173. The owner of Tiltz has his extremely tan and muscular fingers crossed on that one.