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Transit Fares

OPINION: Expand Half-Priced Fares to Unlock Commuter Rail for Working Class New Yorkers

Fair Fares as it exists today falls short for outerborough residents who live near commuter rail services they cannot afford.

The LIRR and Metro-North are currently financially inaccessible for many outerborough commuters. A proposal in Albany could change that.

The city’s Fair Fares program provides half-priced subway and bus fares to low-income New Yorkers, but doesn't cover commuter rail. The FARES Act under consideration by legislators in Albany would change that — providing a huge boost to outerborough commuters like me.

Samuel Santaella

The FARES Act would not only expand Fair Fares to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North within New York City, but create a weekly CityTicket that allows for low-cost commuter rail trips between stops located in the city — with the added bonus of a free subway or bus transfer. It would also extend existing discounts for seniors and people with disabilities to the morning peak. The State Senate included the legislation in its “one-house” budget proposal.

I support these proposals and hope to see them in the finalized state budget this year because I know how greatly they would improve my own life as an eastern Queens resident.

Fair Fares as it exists today falls short for outerborough residents like me who live near commuter rail services they cannot afford. It means I’m unable to take advantage of a commuter option that cuts trip times to Manhattan and Brooklyn by more than half compared to the bus and subway.

I live less than a 10-minute walk away from the LIRR's St. Albans station. It takes me 70 minutes to get to Penn Station by bus and subway — assuming no delays. To get to downtown Brooklyn, it takes me 90 minutes with two transfers. 

If I take the LIRRR, either destination is only 30 minutes away. Yet 99 percent of the time I opt against taking the LIRR in favor of the cheaper-but-slower Q4 bus that runs along the same route. 

LIRR tickets range between $7 at rush hour and $5 off-peak to travel within New York City — making a round trip out of reach for me financially. This is despite tickets being cheaper now in 2024 than before the pandemic. I wrote about this — as well as my struggles with transit affordability — in a prior op-ed for Streetsblog.

Expanding Fair Fares to include the LIRR would revolutionize my options — because now $5 to go to Midtown or Atlantic Terminal and back is much more manageable. I'd only be paying $2.10 extra to save at least 80 minutes.

Don't get me wrong — other initiatives being by transit advocates would also help me. Riders Alliance and others want to expand Fair Fares eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Legislators in Albany want to "get congestion pricing right" by funding frequent buses, as well as more free buses.

But none of the above would get me and other working class outerborough residents across the city in a half hour affordably like a 50 percent discount on commuter rail fares for low-income residents. This is why I hope the FARES Act makes it to the final state budget this year.

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