The New York City Transit Riders Council, the citizens' advisory committee to the MTA, today unveiled its proposal for a so-called "Freedom Ticket"—a single-fare alternative to the MetroCard and Commuter Rail ticket. They believe the new fare option would make efficient commuting feasible for New Yorkers who live in some of the city's "transportation deserts," like Jamaica in Queens and Fordham and Tremont in the Bronx.
A monthly Freedom Ticket would cost $215—36% less than the combined cost of a $218 monthly LIRR pass and a monthly unlimited $116.50 MetroCard.
Taking inspiration from the already-instated City Ticket—which allows LIRR and Metro-North riders to commute for reduced fares on the weekends—the Freedom Ticket would offer a flat fee for bus, subway and commuter rail travel. For one rate, a Freedom Ticket holder would travel from point A to B with unlimited free transfers.
The NYCTRC chose Southeast Queens as a proof of concept. While the average New Yorker spends six hours and 18 minutes in transit each week, residents in Southeast Queens spend, on average, more than twice that—approximately 15 hours.
According to City data, two thirds of New Yorkers who commute more than an hour in each direction make less than $35,000 per year.
A Freedom Ticket would tentatively cost $6.50 one way. That's more expensive than a local bus or subway commute, but nearly half the price of the current LIRR-to-subway transfer—the most efficient commute option from Southeast Queens to Penn Station, clocking in under 40 minutes.
NYCTRC Executive Director Bill Henderson estimates that the switch would cost the MTA about $4.3 million annually in current LIRR riders switching over.
"We think there's going to be a cost, but we're suggesting that the city bear that cost," Henderson told us this morning, making a favorable comparison to a recently-proposed subway-equivalent $2.75 fare on commuter rails within city limits.
The MTA has already strongly denounced the $2.75 fare and accompanying free subway transfer as economically infeasible, to the tune of $70 million in annual revenue losses.
"Every Freedom Ticket trip that switches over from a local bus-and-subway commute is a $3 revenue gain," Henderson added. "If 1,000 riders switch over, that would be an additional $1.5 million per year. If you switch 3,000 you'd be pretty close to breaking even."
According to the NYCTRC report, just shy of 20,000 LIRR seats are empty on an average peak trip from Jamaica to Penn Station. Therefore, they argue, there's room on the commuter rail to accommodate significant switchover.
The NYCTRC report recommends that the MTA and the City implement a Freedom Ticket trial in Southeast Queens by 2017, and at all commuter rail stations at least .8 miles from a subway station by 2019.
The MTA, which recently shot down a proposal for a free shuttle bus to LaGuardia Airport—in addition to the $2.75 commuter rail fare within city limits—was less immediately dismissive of the Freedom Ticket.
"It's an interesting proposal to alleviate the concerns of some of our customers, though it would certainly carry a financial impact for the MTA as well," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg in a statement. "So we'll consider it next year as we determine how to structure the next in our series of modest fare increases equivalent to the rate of inflation."