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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Pols Quiet on LIRR

Perhaps it was because the canceled trains and chronic delays occurred in late August but the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) epic operational problems, reportedly caused by a fire at a switching tower near Jamaica station, prompted little visible outrage from the Island’s elected officials.


I really wanted a Long Island-based state lawmaker or statewide candidate to hold a press conference at Jamaica Station calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the LIRR’s parent agency, to launch an independent investigation into the origins of switching tower’s disablement, greater public accountability from the LIRR’s management and unions, and point out that all of this is occurring with LIRR fare rate hikes looming in January 2011. The media would have extensively covered such an event because they’re dying for news in late August.

This press conference would not have been grandstanding. In fact, it would have been a great public service, applying the type of political pressure the LIRR did not feel during its latest crisis because Governor Paterson is leaving office at the end of this year, and the leaders of the state Assembly and the state Senate are from New York City. Indeed, I imagine neither state Assemblyman Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) nor state Senator John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) got one phone call about the LIRR’s problems.

The political situation may begin to change in mid-September. The LIRR is instituting system-wide service reductions on Monday, Sept. 13, a topic discussed in this space last week, and they will be noticed, especially on the Port Washington and West Hempstead branches. Days later, on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m., the MTA is hosting a public hearing at The Garden City Hotel, 45 Seventh Street, Garden City “to solicit public comment on fare and toll modifications proposed for implementation on or about January 1, 2011.”

The LIRR’s ticket prices will of course move northward. The MTA wants to achieve a 7.5 percent revenue gain next year on its commuter rail road systems. If 7.5 percent is the final number, a western Nassau commuter will see their monthly ticket price rise to nearly $220 from $204.

In a move that will launch on-board shouting matches next year, the MTA is looking to reduce dramatically the expiration dates on the LIRR’s one-way, round-trip and ten-trip tickets. Today, a one-way and round-trip ticket purchased on the LIRR is redeemable for the next six months. The MTA wants to drop that ticket’s shelf life to seven days. Ten-trip tickets would be good for three months, rather than a year, if the MTA’s plan is implemented. Moreover, the MTA is proposing either an elimination or reduction in the discounts offered to those using its Mail & Ride or WebTicket programs.

Buying a ticket while on-board the LIRR, always a bad idea, is about to get more expensive, too. The MTA wants the LIRR to round up to the nearest dollar the final fee riders hand to its personnel for on-board ride extensions and step-up transactions, giving travelers an easy way to make on-board donations to the LIRR, as well.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: