MTA Will Extend $5 City Ticket To Far Rockaway LIRR Riders This Summer
They can hitch a ride from Rockaway Beach.
A bevy of elected officials announced on Thursday that the MTA had agreed to finally expand its discount intracity commuter rail fare to Far Rockaway, a $5 fare known as the City Ticket, a long-sought missing link in the city’s transit network.
“Two words that we’re addressing today: transit equity,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who previously represented Far Rockaway in the City Council.
The City Ticket allows someone riding a LIRR or Metro-North train inside the city limits to get a $5 ride during off-peak and weekend hours. Both commuter rail roads run through parts of the city in Queens or the Bronx that are far from the subway, but cost significantly more than a subway ride for residents of those areas before the CityTicket was introduced in 2004.
State Sen. James Sanders, Jr. noted that when the City Ticket was introduced in 2004, the agency left Far Rockaway out of it, and that it took the combined weight of all of the peninsula’s political representation to finally bring the deal to the neighborhood. Sanders himself had been asking the MTA to extend the discount to Far Rockaway residents since he was a City Council member in 2012 and the ticket only cost $3.75.
Bringing Far Rockaway under the City Ticket umbrella was especially important after Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams endorsed the idea of a 24/7 City Ticket in their blueprint for a fabulous new New York City. Hochul said in her State of the State briefing book this year that the peak hour City Ticket would be available “at a slight premium,” but Thursday’s announcement ensured that the discount didn’t go through any more changes without including Far Rockaway.
“We had the City Ticket, and [the MTA] forgot that the Rockaways were in the city,” Sanders said at the Far Rockaway stop on Thursday. “But we are blessed that after several years, everybody that you see up here, fought on this issue, so we’re claiming it all together.”
The MTA has previously said that because Far Rockaway is the only LIRR station that took riders into Nassau County before turning back into the city, letting people use the City Ticket to go to or from the station would allow suburban riders to get a cheaper fare at stops between Jamaica and Rockaway.
“LIRR intends to implement this pilot concept as part of the upcoming fare and toll change proceedings in Summer 2023,” said MTA spokesperson Kayla Shults. “Folding Far Rockaway into the City Ticket promotions will allow MTA to continue supporting mobility, employment, and equity in the region, and we embrace the opportunity to do so.”
Sanders said on Thursday that the agency solved its holdup by only allowing people to buy a physical Far Rockaway City Ticket from a ticket vending machine at the Far Rockaway LIRR stop. Customers buying tickets using the TrainTime app will only be able to do so in the area of the Far Rockaway station according to Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson. That policy will prevent people heading to Far Rockaway from using the $5 fare unless they buy a return ticket when they leave the station, which Richards and other elected officials at the press conference vowed to fix in the future.
Anderson mentioned the importance of including the Rockaways in the program as the governor expanded it, and also said that there was a clear need for the discount ticket because Comptroller Tom DiNapoli previously found that Rockaway residents had the longest commute times in the entire city at 50 minutes on average. A ride to Penn Station can take 53 minutes on a rush-hour LIRR train from Far Rockaway, while the much-cheaper A train from Far Rockaway can take one hour and eight minutes.
“This is huge because the Rockaways has the longest commute times in the city,” he said, suggesting that transit users will switch to the faster and now reasonably priced LIRR. “This train will cut that commute time, and now more people can access it.”
With the last LIRR station included in the City Ticket, advocates and elected officials are still pushing the MTA to add the station to the Atlantic Ticket deal, which allows commuter rail riders in southeast Queens and Brooklyn to get a $60 weekly ticket that also includes a weekly unlimited MetroCard. As of May 2022 the MTA was selling 723 weekly Atlantic Tickets, which cannot be purchased on the TrainTime app and have to be bought at a physical ticket machine, per week.
“The MTA should continue looking at expanding the discounted ticket program for in-city railroad commuters, and to make it easier for commuters to transfer freely from the Long Island Rail Road to the subway or bus,” said City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers.
The expansion, and Brooks-Powers’s calls for more, was music to the ears of long time commuter rail discount advocates.
“This is a really important step for equity for anybody who lives in Far Rockaway and can now get the same benefits from the CityTicket as other people who live in the five boroughs do,” said Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, who’s urged the MTA to expand the Atlantic Ticket beyond its current state as a pilot.