BY TRONE DOWD
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) have announced that the Metropolitan Transit Authority will move forward with implementing the often talked about “Freedom Ticket” fare option, a sign that the city will address longstanding concerns of transit affordability in underserved parts of the outer boroughs.
The Freedom Ticket option, which would provide a flat, slightly more expensive fee across the board for a Metrocard in exchange for unlimited access to commuter rails such as the Long Island Rail Road, is intended to give additional value for monthly fares. For areas like Southeast Queens, this would reduce costs for commuter rail straphangers, while also providing people with a more affordable way to take the LIRR. Participating LIRR stations in Queens will include Laurelton, Locust Manor, Rosedale and St. Albans.
“The Freedom Ticket promises a greater freedom of movement and a more intelligent use of our transit system, prioritizing the needs of commuters in need of a break,” Borough President Adams said. “I look forward to seeing the results of this pilot program.”
A monthly Freedom Ticket would cost $215, a 36 percent difference between the combined prices of a $218 monthly LIRR pass and a $116.50 monthly MetroCard.The plan, which was originally drawn up by the NYCTRC, has gained significant support over the years from elected officials throughout the city. In Southeast Queens, Council members I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) as well as state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) have long been vocal about transportation alternatives for their constituents. All three elected officials oversee parts of the borough commonly referred to as “transit deserts,” neighborhoods that are underserved by public transportation options, and they have come out in support of the Freedom Ticket proposal.
Miller, who has advocated for improved commutes in Southeast Queens since he was elected, said that he was excited about the prospect of the Freedom Ticket pilot program. Richards called the program “a major step in the right direction.”
“As we always say, people are paying more and getting less services when it comes to the MTA,” Richards told the PRESS of Southeast Queens. “Any effort to improve transportation services for Southeast Queens residents is welcome, especially since we’re in a transportation desert.”
Richards said that he doesn’t want this pilot program to fall by the wayside in the coming years.
“Eventually, we want to see this go from pilot to permanent fixture in the budget,” he said. “But I’m grateful to the MTA and the governor for recognizing that this is an important investment for working class, middle class and low-income families who, on average, can take two hours to get to work.”
The NYCTRC has said that Freedom Ticket users wouldn’t overburden the existing infrastructure, but instead make it more efficient. It would both take advantage of empty seats on LIRR trains, while reducing overcrowding on nearby bus and subway lines. According to LIRR statistics, 47 percent of seats are left empty on westbound trains between the Jamaica and Rosedale stations during morning peak hours, while 35 percent of seats are left empty on eastbound trains during evening peak hours.
“This does make a huge difference in a world where wages are stagnant,” Richards said. “Everything is going up but wages, so this is a huge deal for Southeast Queens.”
The Freedom Ticket is not the only push for affordable public transit options. City Council members and transportation advocacy group Riders Alliance took to the steps of City Hall on Monday to push their “Fair Fares” proposal. “Fair Fares” would instate half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. Both Richards and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), who represent Southeast Queens, were in attendance.
“Too many low-income New Yorkers struggle to afford the cost of a MetroCard, leaving them with the difficult choice of scaling back basic necessities or forgoing travel,” Lancman said. “We can and we must do better to break down travel barriers people experience across our city.”
There have been petitions for the “Fair Fares” initiative, in attempts to garner support from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The PRESS of Southeast Queens reached out to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for a comment, but was unable to reach her by press time.
The decision to test the Freedom Ticket plan was made by the MTA in January after months of advocacy from civic leaders.
It has been noted that the program will be a part of the MTA’s CityTicket pilot program, which established a reduced fare on weekends within New York City limits on LIRR and Metro-North trains in 2003.