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Commuters have taken more than 2.3 million discounted Long Island Rail Road trips between Southeast Queens and Brooklyn since the MTA began offering cut-rate rides from select stops in June 2018, figures obtained by THE CITY show.
The Atlantic Ticket pilot program, which the MTA extended last summer for another year, generated more than $10 million in revenue for the agency through its first 18 months.
Now, several elected officials are pushing for an expanded, cheaper version: the “Freedom Ticket,” which was first proposed more than a decade ago by the New York City Transit Riders Council. The group updated its idea in 2015 in hopes of cutting travel times for city commuters who live closer to commuter rail stations than the subway.
“It’s a well-kept secret,” Lisa Daglian of the Transit Riders Council said about the Atlantic Ticket program. “This is too good an opportunity that not enough people are taking advantage of.”
An MTA spokesperson declined to comment on the figures obtained by THE CITY, which show an average of nearly 23,000 discounted Atlantic Ticket are purchased weekly. The spokesperson, Aaron Donovan, said another progress report on the pilot program will be released this summer.
Last summer, LIRR President Phil Eng said the railroad was seeing “some promising results” from the ongoing field study, and that some riders had shifted from Penn Station in Manhattan to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to take advantage of the discounts.
A $5 One-Way Ride
The Atlantic Ticket offers $5 one-way tickets to and from any of 10 LIRR stations in Brooklyn and Southeast Queens, and a $60 weekly option for LIRR rides to and from those stations, along with a seven-day unlimited ride MetroCard. But it can only be purchased at ticket machines or sales offices, and not from the MTA’s eTix app or from conductors on trains.
Queens and Brooklyn residents who previously connected to subway stations by bus or other forms of transportation said they welcomed spending less time commuting, even if trains that are part of the study don’t go to Penn Station.
All three of Brooklyn’s LIRR stations — Nostrand Avenue, East New York and Atlantic Terminal — participate in the pilot program. In Queens, the Atlantic Ticket applies to Jamaica, Hollis, Queens Village, Locust Manor, St. Albans, Laurelton and Rosedale.
“When I started my job in the Financial District, I used to take the J back to Jamaica Center and take the Q43,” said Shaquille Campbell, 26, who lives in Queens Village. “My commute took over two hours … when Atlantic Ticket came out, I didn’t look back.”
Lower Price of ‘Freedom’
Queens Councilmember I. Daneek Miller is pushing for the program to be expanded by making all trips within New York City on the LIRR and Metro-North — the MTA’s other commuter railroad — cost $2.75, with free transfers between rail, bus and subway.
He’s calling it the “Freedom Ticket,” borrowing the New York City Transit Riders Council’s name for the plan.
Miller, a former MTA bus driver and president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, cited the transit agency’s bus network redesigns in each borough and the coming of congestion pricing in Manhattan as a “transportation metamorphosis” taking place in the city.
“It’s an opportunity for us to talk about something that would really enhance the quality of life for so many people,” Miller who represents areas around St. Albans, Laurelton and Queens Village, told THE CITY. “The time is now.”
He’s secured backing from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other elected officials, but where the funding for any potential expansion would come from remains unclear.
A 2018 transportation report by Comptroller Scott Stringer found that by extending MetroCard transfers to the commuter rails the MTA “can dramatically expand its five-borough transit network at an estimated cost of just $50 million per year.”
Miller noted the report compared that cost to the billions of dollars and many years it would take to extend existing subway lines instead.
“You have to engineer it and you have to pay for it. That’s the answer,” said Councilmember Barry Grodenchik, who represents parts of eastern Queens from Bayside to Hollis.
“Why shouldn’t the residents of Queens benefit from the LIRR?” asked Grodenchick. “We are on Long Island. Every Long Island railroad train that goes to Penn Station or Brooklyn has got to pass through Queens County. There’s no magic fly over.”
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