Broad Coalition in the Bronx Calls on MTA to Implement Freedom Ticket Commuter Rail Discount Program
PCAC’s Proposal Comes as MTA Considers Fare Proposals at December Board Meeting
(December 14, 2021) Fordham, Bronx: With the MTA Board expected to vote on a set of pilot programs of new fare types at its December 15th meeting, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Borough President-elect Vanessa Gibson, joined by a host of elected officials and advocates, held a rally calling for #FreedomTicketNow: expanded commuter rail discounts throughout New York City, with free transfers to subways and buses.
Instead of Freedom Ticket and the broader discounts and flexibility it offers, the MTA is set to vote on an expanded City Ticket to allow for discounts during any off-peak travel within the city on Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road; this pilot program would take effect in March and run for approximately four months. Attendees at the rally noted that while the City Ticket expansion will be a good first step, Freedom Ticket discounts with transfers would offer tens of thousands of Bronx and Queens riders more flexible, affordable and equitable transit options. The lower fares, coupled with shorter travel times, would fill empty seats on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad and benefit riders and the MTA. Further expansion through off-peak and reverse peak discounts would support inter- and intra-county travel on Long Island and into the Hudson Valley, further boosting ridership and supporting local economies. These are key findings and recommendations of a recent report released by the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC), entitled “Freedom Ticket Phase II: Now, More Than Ever!”
While Queens riders have benefitted from the successful Atlantic Ticket reduced fare pilot program, which provides riders at eligible Queens stations with $5 LIRR fares or a $60 weekly ticket that includes free transfers to the subway or bus, the Bronx has no such option for affordable Metro-North fares. Many of the LIRR and Metro-North stations within New York City are in neighborhoods far from subways, requiring long bus-to-subway trips. With Atlantic Ticket, some riders saw their commutes reduced by more than an hour each way. Expansion projects like Penn Station Access – which would bring four new Metro-North stations to the Bronx – and plans for the new Penn Station, East Side Access, and LIRR’s Third Track, will provide even more available capacity and flexibility for Freedom Ticket discounts in the Bronx and around New York City.
“Our public transit system is one of New York City’s greatest assets and increasing ridership in an affordable and efficient way for commuters will play a crucial role in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “We have seen the success of the Atlantic Ticket reduced fare pilot program, and bringing Freedom Ticket Phase II to our borough will be a step in the right direction towards ensuring that Bronxites that have faced economic hardships due to the pandemic, or live in areas with less transit options and far commutes, will have fiscal incentive to take public transit instead of driving.”
“Bringing Freedom Ticket Phase II to the Bronx would be a significant step forward in ensuring more New Yorkers had equitable access to affordable transportation options. Many Bronxites live in neighborhoods miles away from the nearest subway and require a bus or the Metro-North to travel to their destination. Discounted fares and free transfers would reduce travel time for many but would also help MTA reach its goal of increasing ridership that decreased during the pandemic. It is also needed now more than ever as many straphangers are still reeling from the devastating financial impact COVID-19 had on many of our families. If we are to truly be a city committed to transportation equity for all, we must call on MTA to immediately expand Freedom Ticket to all LIRR and MNR city stations. I also want to thank Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, my other colleagues in government, PCAC and all the transit advocates that have helped to push this forward,” said Bronx Borough President-Elect Vanessa Gibson.
“Bringing Freedom Ticket into the Bronx is crucial for our borough. Each day, my constituents rely heavily on public transportation and the lack of discounted ticket prices has a negative impact on commuters. It is imperative for the MTA to expand this program and allow discounted Metro-North fares, including free transfers to subways and buses. It will only improve the lives of all Bronxites,” said Assembly Member Kenneth Burgos.
“The Bronx is the home of the “Blue Collar” workers and those essential workers used massed transit every day during the most deadly wave of this pandemic. They traveled with the mission of keeping our city alive. Now it is our turn to give them a helping hand as they continue to navigate these difficult times. Discounted ticket prices can be the difference in added groceries or paid bill,” said Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia.
“This is the right time for the MTA to move forward with bold efforts to get riders back on board. Bringing Freedom Ticket Phase II to the Bronx will help ensure that riders in areas with the longest commutes and fewest options have access to transit – especially on Metro-North, which for many is financially inaccessible. It will also give drivers good alternatives for getting out of their cars in advance of congestion pricing,” said Randy Glucksman, chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council and MTA Board Member.
“The success of the Atlantic Ticket program shows that riders will take the trains that are often much closer to home once they are brought within financial reach. It’s a no-brainer to expand this to the rest of the city LIRR stations and include Metro-North. It will help reduce long travel times and provide a more equitable regional fare structure, allowing the MTA to attract commuters back, bring in new riders, and better accommodate regional essential workers,” said Andrew Albert, chair of the NYC Transit Riders Council, MTA Board Member and architect of the original Freedom Ticket-turned-Atlantic Ticket proposal.
“Bringing more affordable commuter rail fares with transfers to the subway and bus will be key to creating a more equitable transit system and region, for the Bronx and beyond. Even as Metro-North trains travel through the borough, with more stops planned with the exciting Penn Access project, too many riders can’t afford to get on board when their schedules dictate. We’re disappointed that the MTA is not considering Freedom Ticket as one of the discount fare options they’ll be voting on at tomorrow’s Board meeting, but we’ll continue to fight for this important program. It’s already proven to be a success as Atlantic Ticket for Southeast Queens riders on the LIRR – now, Bronxites deserves the same access to shorter, more affordable Metro-North commutes,” said Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC).
“New York City thrives from the public transportation system,” said Council Member Kevin C. Riley. “Enhancing infrastructure and expanding programs, like the Freedom Ticket Phase II, is a pivotal factor in bringing our transportation system to improved recovery, and more importantly, giving consumers the riding experience they deserve and depend on. Underserved areas in the Bronx, like my district, have been on the receiving end of inconsistent and inaccessible service leading to longer commutes and resorting to alternative transportation. Freedom Ticket Phase II gives my community the opportunity it hasn’t had for more equitable and affordable transit. I strongly urge the MTA Board to implement commuter rail discounts with the execution of this program.”
Over the last four years, I have been advocating for transit opportunities where accessibility and affordability are at the center of how we bring transit to communities. The freedom ticket is an opportunity for that kind of transit accessibility communities in The Bronx need. It not only would incentivize using new and existing infrastructure because of the discounts, but it also focuses on those who rely most on transit – our working families. We already have difficulty moving within our borough, or using different forms of transit affordable. We need to not only expand and lower the cost of travel but prioritize outer-borough communities so we don’t always have to detour through Manhattan to get to our friends in Queens or Brooklyn. We are one city yet we are disconnected because of lack of accessibility and cost. That has to change. By recognizing the hassle that is cross-borough transit, I full heartedly supported and will advocate for the Freedom Ticket,” said Council Member-Elect Amanda Farías.
“Freedom Ticket is essential to better transit for the Bronx and to making Penn Access a success. For decades, Bronxites with punishingly long commutes have watched commuter trains cruelly whizz past their neighborhoods at five times the subway or bus fare. Making transit fairer with Freedom Ticket is a transformational step toward equity that cannot happen soon enough for the Bronx. Riders are grateful to PCAC, Borough President Diaz, Borough President-elect Gibson, and state legislators for leading the charge forward,” said Danny Pearlstein, Policy & Communications Director for Riders Alliance.
“Commuter rail in the New York City metropolitan area has changed little in the last century, providing limited service at a premium price for affluent workers who live in the suburbs and work in Manhattan. This is an antiquated business and operations model that no longer reflects modern working and commuting patterns,” said Liam Blank, Policy and Communications Manager for Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “The Freedom Ticket proposal moves us closer to unlocking a world-class regional rail system with equitable fares and more frequent, all-day service. This is the course we must follow to cut greenhouse emissions, expand access to critical services and opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers, and stimulate more transit-oriented development in places that need it most.”
“Metro-North and LIRR service is a huge untapped resource,” said TransitCenter Communications Director Ben Fried. “Tens of thousands of residents with low incomes in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn could use these trains to save huge chunks of time and gain access to more job opportunities, but the current fare structure is prohibitively expensive. With weekday ridership down nearly 50%, now is the time to enact Freedom Ticket discounts and open up service to New Yorkers who’ll benefit enormously.”
“A full-fledged Freedom Ticket will provide equitable, affordable access to our transit system for Bronx residents that just doesn’t exist today. We’ve seen the success of the Atlantic Ticket in improving commutes for thousands of new LIRR customers, and it’s time for the MTA to implement the same type of discounted fare, with free subway and bus transfers, on Metro North. The data shows that Freedom Ticket will boost ridership and revenue, and we urge the MTA Board to implement it in full,” said Eric McClure, Executive Director of StreetsPAC.
“The commuter railroads can be the backbone of regional recovery efforts,” said Gerard Bringmann, chair of PCAC and the LIRR Commuter Council, and MTA Board Member. “This is a great opportunity for the MTA to take a proactive approach in reinventing the way it provides and charges for service in a way that benefit commuters and its own fiscal interests. We are asking the MTA to expand discounted LIRR and Metro-North fares with transit transfers in the city now, and to offer suburban commuters alternate ticket options – including discounted 20 trip tickets – while the results of the pilot program are being analyzed, in advance of Phase II expansion. Getting more paying riders onboard the railroads is a win-win all around.”
Atlantic Ticket, which came to fruition based on a recommendation from the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) and the support of a host of elected officials, increased revenue at eligible stations by 45% between 2016 and 2019. Freedom Ticket would increase ridership on the railroads with new and returning commuters, while helping the MTA meet its objective of getting riders back on board.
- Improve the Atlantic Ticket Pilot Program;
- Expand Freedom Ticket to All LIRR and MNR City Stations with Transfers to NYC Transit Subways and Buses;
- Create a Freedom Ticket Task Force to oversee a thorough fare restructuring study to help provide timely recommendations; make ridership and revenue data public; identify funding opportunities; and provide quarterly reports to the MTA Board.
- Implement Off-Peak & Reverse Peak Suburban Discount Pilot Programs;
- Make Phase I Pilot Programs Permanent and Establish Benchmarks for Phase II Permanence.
Noting that economic hardships for many riders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the number of empty seats on both the railroads offer a unique opportunity for the MTA to help guide its own recovery and provide more equitable transit options, PCAC recommends phased implementation of discounted rail fares. While commuter rail ridership numbers continue to increase, they are still just over half of pre-pandemic levels. Ridership is still expected to reach just 80-90% of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
Watch the full event: