2016-10-12 / Front Page

Queens Chamber Holds Freedom Ticket Meeting

By Thomas Cogan

The transportation committee of the Queens Chamber of Commerce had a breakfast meeting last week at QCC headquarters in the Bulova Corporate Center, to discuss the New York City Transit Riders Council’s research report, The Freedom Ticket:  A Southeast Queens Proof of Concept.  The Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transit Authority made the presentation.  The report by the NYCTRC, whose members are state-appointed, seeks a solution to “the lack of affordable and efficient transit access in the outer boroughs”—particularly in the southeast part of Queens, where there is a dearth of subway and elevated service, which is low-priced, though there’s a sufficiency of Long Island Railroad service, which is much higher-priced.  In Queens, a considerable amount of empty seats are available on LIRR trains, even during peak commuting periods, the report says. 

For several years NYCTRC has wondered how these two situations could be brought together to produce reliable, time-saving and affordable commuting between southeast Queens and the employment centers of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Its answer is Freedom Ticket.  According to the report, FT “would allow customers to use any MTA mode that meets their needs, be it bus, subway or commuter rail, within a given zone for a reduced rate.”  It combines railroad fare and a free transfer to a subway or bus.  PCAC representatives explained a three-phase roll-out that could be undertaken over four years and include expansion to other underserved areas and, ultimately, integration with the MTA’s East Side Access multi-route plan that has been under construction for several years in Queens and Manhattan. The presentation was begun with a display of a map of subway and elevated service in Queens, showing a lot of unserved or underserved spots in this, the city’s largest borough in land area.  Laying a route map of the LIRR over the subway map showed the addition of rail transportation that is possible.  The combining of subway and LIRR service has actually been in effect since 2004, through a plan called City Ticket, but with a weekly fare at $100.75 and monthly fare at $334.50 it is generally seen as too expensive for subway riders also using buses, where the weekly fare is $31.00 and the monthly $116.50. 

The bus-and-subway routine is slow, however.  Using Rosedale in southeast Queens, near the Nassau County line, as the starting point of a journey to Grand Central Terminal, bus-and-subway could take an hour and 58 minutes.  Both City Ticket and Freedom Ticket (LIRR and subway) would take only 54 minutes, but where the monthly fare on City Ticket is $334.50, on the proposed FT it would be $215.00.  Though that is nearly $100.00 higher than bus-and-subway, it cuts time by more than an hour, which riders in southeast Queens might consider advantageous.  (This is speculative, of course, since the LIRR doesn’t go to Grand Central, though the East Side Access is supposed to change that.)

Three segments of morning and evening travel on the LIRR were studied.  The first was about trains that come in from outside Queens to the great hub of Jamaica in the morning and go in the opposite direction each evening.  The Queens towns east of Jamaica with stations, located on three different lines, are Queens Village, Hollis, St. Albans, Rosedale, Laurelton and Locust Manor.  According to the study, at the peak of morning traffic, nearly 22,000 seats, 34 percent, are empty; at the evening peak, 23,000 seats, 39 percent, are empty.

The second segment, Jamaica to Penn Station, shows that trains stopping in Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Woodside, the stations west of Jamaica, have close to 20,000 empty seats, 23 percent, in the morning peak and another 20,000 or 26 percent empty in the evening peak. 

The third segment covers Jamaica to Atlantic Terminal in downtown Brooklyn, which route has the East New York and Nostrand Avenue stations in the middle.  In the a.m. peak, there are somewhat more than 9,000 empty seats, which is close to half of them; and in the p.m. peak more than 60 percent of seats, over 11,000, are unfilled.

Attending to the third segment is the first phase of the Freedom Ticket roll-out, on schedule for implementation in 2017.  The second phase is expansion to underserved areas, to be effected in 2019; and the third phase is integration with East Side Access planning in 2021.

The presentation ended with a little promotion.  The NYTRC and PCAC are urging interested   persons to write to the mayor and support the Freedom Ticket program.  Also, they are asked to let the MTA know they approve the service and to attend the MTA fare hearings and testify.

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