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LIRR riders in Lynbrook, East Rockaway bemoan rate hike proposal

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Many local residents and elected leaders say they are angry that transit officials are mulling a Long Island Rail Road fare increase amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing an increase in monthly ticket prices by up to 4.3 percent; weekly tickets, by as much as 5.9 percent; and other types of tickets, by up to 11.2 percent. The MTA is also considering several other options, including instituting a “flat fare” for all LIRR trips between Long Island and New York City. A vote on the increases is expected in January or February, and if they were to pass, they would likely take effect in March.

East Rockaway resident Jonathan Meneses called the hike a “slap in the face” to anyone who has been riding the system for years, and to those impacted by the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

“I think that the MTA and LIRR should get their own house in order before they fleece the everyday commuter,” Meneses said. “. . . The way people worked in the past is not the way of the future. Necessity is the mother of all invention; working remotely for a lot of companies has gone relatively well. The MTA and LIRR should get with the times and realize that even after scaring away potential commuters with these fare increases, the ridership numbers will never return to 2019 levels for a long time, if at all.”

Carolyn Stone shared a similar sentiment. “The commute is too expensive now,” she said. “Any increase is too much to tolerate.”

Responding to a request for comment, an MTA representative directed the Herald to the agency’s 2021 budget and four-year plan. The MTA is experiencing its worst financial crisis ever because of decreased ridership during the pandemic, and has requested $12 billion in emergency aid from the federal government. Additionally, the MTA has kept its fare increase in line with the practice of steady upticks it has had in place since 2009.

LIRR ridership has dropped to a quarter of what it was at before the pandemic.

Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach released a statement in response to the proposal, calling the potential hikes “especially hurtful and unfair to our area commuters.”

“We have worked collaboratively with the LIRR and MTA management on station enhancements,” Beach said, referring to the $17.9 million upgrade recently completed at the Lynbrook station, “and look forward to maintaining that positive relationship for additional improvements that are needed. However, we believe the full MTA board must rethink the impact their proposal will have on our residents.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran spoke out against the potential increases before transit officials at a virtual public hearing on Dec. 1. In a statement afterward, she urged the federal government to fund immediate aid for the MTA so rates do not increase while many commuters are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

“We must ensure that the MTA has a plan that provides long-term sustainability and shows real savings before we burden riders with a fare increase,” Curran said. “I ask that the MTA board vote no on a fare increase.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, was among those who chastised the MTA for considering a rate hike. “The MTA’s plan to further increase fares on Long Islanders during this extraordinarily difficult time will depress ridership and disincentivize commuters from getting back on the trains,” he said in a statement. “While my colleagues and I will continue to fight for more funding for the MTA from Washington, asking Long Islanders to pay even more as they return to work will only hurt ridership and our economy as a whole.”

Kaminsky has criticized the MTA for poor service and proposed rate hikes in the past. In 2019, he passed legislation in the state budget that directed a comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA.

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, also attended the hearing, and voiced her opposition to the hikes. “Our hardworking essential workers deserve more as they battle a pandemic, and the LIRR needs to ensure a safe ride where all commuters adhere to the pandemic guidelines,” Griffin said. “That is a way to increase ridership, not fare increases.