Last year, I did some law work in Washington, DC. As a ten-hour total daily commute is not my idea of a good time, I ended up renting a place in College Park, Maryland. My greatest escape from the long hours in the office was the convenient ride on the Metro. When I boarded the train, it felt like the Long Island Rail Road. By the time I arrived in the city, I was, for all intents and purposes, on the subway -- without having to transfer.
Here in New York, we can learn from Washington. That is not a sentence that often appears in print (a Google search produced no results), and perhaps for good reason. But when it comes to transportation, it holds true.
While it might not be feasible to combine the railroad with the subway at this time, we can and should do all we can to lower costs. The Queens Public Transit Committee fights tirelessly for the QueensRail, a name we created to rebrand the former Rockaway Beach Line more inclusively. The main complaint about the LIRR is its expensive fare, which helps explain why the subway option gained so much traction: if our goal is to bring people together, let's do it with the system most can access.
There's another idea worth supporting, and one that can become a reality sooner. The Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the MTA has proposed the Freedom Ticket for railroad travel that includes a subway or bus transfer, at a fare discounted significantly from what such trips cost now. In some cases, the savings would approach fifty percent. After the concept was presented and discussed, the Queens Public Transit Committee voted for it unanimously.
Most compelling about the Freedom Ticket plan is the fact that many LIRR seats are empty, even during peak hours. According to the PCAC's findings, twenty-three percent of seats are unused in the morning and twenty-six percent are vacant during the evening between Jamaica and Penn Station. Between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal those numbers rise to forty-nine and sixty percent, respectively. This means more passengers can be aboard without using additional resources. For the MTA, it presents an opportunity to convert unoccupied seats into revenue.
In Rockaway, the Freedom Ticket can provide another practical method of traveling to the city. In my conversations with its architects, who mentioned they wanted to roll this out in so-called transportation deserts, I urged them not to be fooled by the water on three sides. When it comes to Rockaway's mass transit status, the only thing missing is a cactus. With programs like this, and the new ferry and the eventual QueensRail, however, that is beginning to turn around.
The infrastructure to improve our mass transit is already in place. It's now a matter of making smart decisions to make it all work together.
Mike Scala is the First Vice President of the Queens Public Transit Committee and co-chair of the Rockaway Ferry Committee.