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LIRRCC Testimony – March 8, 2010 – Ronkonkoma Service Cuts

Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council
Before the MTA Board on the Proposals for Service and Administrative Changes
County Center, Riverhead, NY

March, 8, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is Gerard Bringmann.  I am the Vice-Chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council (LIRRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Long Island Rail Road riders.

The members of the Council are dismayed and disturbed that after 166 years of service to Greenport, the MTA is proposing to end regular train service beyond Ronkonkoma and convert the branch into essentially a tourist railroad, operating only on summer weekends.  The alternatives that are included in the proposal, park and ride from Ronkonkoma or the Montauk Branch, are simply not viable for many riders.  We consider this proposed action ill-considered, a breach of faith with the people of Long Island, and simply wrong.

The Long Island Rail Road was rescued by the State of New York in 1966 to provide a vital public service for the people of Long Island, this region, and the State.  If profitably is the test of whether elements of this service should be provided, very few communities would continue to see LIRR trains.  Because LIRR service reduces congestion on the roads, promotes economic development, and makes numerous other contributions to the general good, residents across Long Island pay a number of taxes that provide the financial support that keeps the trains rolling.  It is our conviction that in turn the LIRR has an obligation to serve residents across Long Island.

Our members believe the question is not whether to provide service to this area but how to provide it.  It is not surprising that ridership is soft when the schedule of Greenport trains makes it difficult for a commuter to ride the train to New York City and work an eight hour day.  After two connections, a rider on the first westbound train will reach Penn Station at 8:20 a.m.  To catch the last train back to Greenport, the commuter must leave Penn Station at 5:41 p.m.  Factor in some time to reach one’s place of business, a lunch break, and the possibility of delays and it is clear that the LIRR is not a feasible way for full time workers to commute from points past Ronkonkoma.

We believe that train service can be a meaningful transportation option for residents of this area, but this outcome requires careful planning rather than a cut and run approach.  Discontinuing service to save less than one million dollars per year is unwise both in terms of the pain that it will inflict on current users, but also in terms of the potential benefits that will never be received.

The Council recognizes that the MTA’s financial position is dire, but this does not mean that there are no options.  For example, we have been fighting for some time to ensure that the LIRR collects all of the ticket revenue that it is due.  Some riders buy tickets and passes for travel from a fare zone further inbound than their home station, because they know that tickets are routinely not checked until well after they board, if they are checked at all.  This may not sound like a major revenue loss, but one percent of the LIRR’s fare income would be enough to save Greenport service five times over.  We implore you not to cut service until every responsible option to reduce costs or increase revenues has been considered.

The LIRRCC shares this Board’s aim of providing the most effective and efficient service possible on the LIRR.  We stand ready to help you in achieving this aim and will support a reasoned and responsible program to streamline the MTA system.  Our members also call upon our State elected officials to reevaluate revenue sources for the MTA that were considered last year by the Ravitch Commission.  Both the MTA and our elected officials must take the difficult steps necessary to preserve and improve the system that is essential to our region and its people.