Yesterday the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an opinion piece by Raanan Geberer on the MTA's current Capital Construction Mega-projects and how areas like the Upper East Side, the Hudson Yards site, and Long Island are getting lots of attention but the city's outer boroughs (Queens in particular) don't have all that much to look forward too.
Here's a brief excerpt from the piece:
OPINION: Subway, rail extensions shortchange outer boroughs -by Raanan GebererThe author then goes on to mention a little bit about how earlier in the 2000's the MTA tossed some capital money Brooklyn's way with the Coney Island Station Renovation, redesigned Atlantic Avenue concourses that improved on crowding conditions, and a newly opened Jay Street-MetroTech transfer.
"Anyone who rides the subways today and sees the advertisements and public service announcements inside the train cars knows about the MTA’s biggest current projects. These include the extension of the Number 7 train to the Javits Center, the East Side Access project for the Long Island Rail Road, the (abbreviated) Second Avenue Subway on the Upper East Side and the Fulton Transit Center in Lower Manhattan.
"The No. 7 train will serve the new development project on the Far West Side as well as the Javits Center. The Fulton Transit Center will make it easier to transfer from one line to another in Lower Manhattan. The Second Avenue Subway will primarily help residents of the Upper East Side, and the East Side Access project will mainly help Long Island residents who work in Midtown or near Grand Central.
"Missing, however, are projects that will directly help residents of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens."
Also mentioned is the recently opened Yankees-E 153rd Street Metro-North station and the enhanced service there. However, he points out that the borough Queens hasn't really been shown some love all that recently:
"Still, the current series of improvements is definitely Manhattan-centric. Why are we still running four-car trains on the G line? What happened to the plans for an F train express? Why don’t we see plans to connect the Second Avenue Subway to the Bronx or Brooklyn—both of which were contained in the original plans of 1972? ...While I cannot vouch for the MTA's capital investments or lack thereof with respect to subway service, I can say that city travelers on the MTA's two commuter rail systems are often given a rough time.
"Unfashionable parts of Manhattan are similarly penalized. The version of the Second Avenue Subway that is currently on the table terminates “temporarily” at 96th Street, traditionally the dividing line between the Upper East Side and East Harlem. True, the MTA calls for the line to proceed up to 125th Street in the second stage, but in this day of fiscal cutbacks, I’ll believe it when I see it..."
Read the full article here: OPINION: Subway, rail extensions shortchange outer boroughs
Stations like Little Neck, Rosedale, St. Alban's, and Queens Village are all within the city limits, but you wouldn't be able to tell that just by looking at the LIRR. At those stations, the service is often worse than that at most stops further out on Long Island and the fares are just as high.
Intra-city travel has long been a weak spot on the LIRR (and Metro-North too). Probably the single greatest thing that is stifling intra-city travel are the fares. A one-way, off-peak ticket from zone 1 to a zone 3 station (zone 3 stations is everything in Queens east of Jamaica) will set you back $7.00. And if you wanted to travel during rush hours, forget it. The peak fare of $9.50 is nearly four times the fare for the subway and bus.
The MTA's CityTicket on weekends is a step in the right direction, but that option is only available on weekends and there are a host of unique terms and conditions associated with that.
Furthermore, the way the LIRR has its tariff policies set up, "via tickets" can only be purchased for stations east of Jamaica, so if I wanted to use the train to get from East New York to Kew Gardens I'm going to have to get two tickets and shell out anywhere from $14-$19.
So there's no disputing that LIRR services and policies within the city limits are lacking. But the LIRR is only really lacking here if you live within the city. The people who use the LIRR from stations in Nassau and Suffolk counties probably think that the LIRR is designed to get them from the suburbs to the city and not to serve as a glorified itraurban subway.
And they may be right too.
With the current layout of operations, there really is no correct answer. You don't want to weigh down those heavily used Ronkonkoma Branch weekend trains by having them make every stop from Floral Park west, and one or two trains per hour at most of the stations isn't going to attract riders either.
In my opinion, the LIRR's off-peak service patterns are in need of an overhaul. If the LIRR could institute special intra-city trains on weekends and during the off-peak where there is spare room on most of the system and really push the CityTicket option, it could suddenly become a whole lot easier to get in from the outer edges of the outer boroughs.
One to three extra trains per hour running from places like Valley Stream, Belmont Park, or Great Neck to Atlantic Terminal, Penn Station, and eventually Grand Central could do wonders to the intra-city market. Set them up with timed four-way transfers at Jamaica (trains going in both directions at the same time) and getting from one station in the city to another could be remarkably quick and easy.
Even the Long Islanders could benefit from trains like these by not having to make as many stops within the city.
The expansion of the CityTicket program should also be taken under consideration, as nobody in their right mind is going to pay four times as much to take the train, no matter how much time it will save them. (Either that or just the softening of zone 3 fares in general. That would also work.)
I have a lot more thoughts and ideas on the intra-city market and how the LIRR should be serving them better (and I know I've said this before), but bear with me, I'll get around to putting them into text sometime very soon! To wrap this post up, the MTA should be looking for a better way to integrate their commuter rail systems into New York City's public transportation network. Other cities around the world have no problems interweaving commuter rail lines into their networks to better serve the people on the outskirts of the city. Why should New York not look to do the same?