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'Freedom Ticket' could slash many hours from subway and bus riders' commutes, fight overcrowding, advocates say

A group is proposing a

A group is proposing a "Freedom Ticket" that would allow commuters to pay $215 a month for unlimited subway, bus and rail trips, initially including the Long Island Rail Road. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

A new fare proposal from passenger advocates said Wednesday that the MTA can slash hours from subway riders' commute every week at little cost, while lowering the number of people packing onto some of its most crowded lines.

Commuters would pay $215 for unlimited rail, subway, and bus trips within the city's limits under the plan by the New York City Transit Riders Council. Currently, a monthly MetroCard and an LIRR ticket in the city east of Jamaica cost more than $330 a month.

Thousands of railroad seats are going unused daily within the city -- while the subway is the most packed it has been since World War II. The E and F lines, for instance, are running at 95% capacity during rush-hours in Queens. Overcrowding also causes delays.

Many New Yorkers could speed up tedious commutes if they switched from the subway to the LIRR or Metro-North, -- if they could afford the railroad tickets, the analysis says.

"There's a wonderful rail infrastructure running through a lot of New York City neighborhoods, but it's priced out of the reach of many residents, and that's a real shame," said Andrew Albert, who chairs the Council and sits on the MTA board.

Under the proposal, the Freedom Ticket would be tried first in southeastern Queens neighborhoods like Laurelton, Rosedale, and St. Albans. Census data show its residents who use city transit have been in a miserable competition with Staten Islanders for some of the city's worst commutes -- but they live near six LIRR stations.

A Rosedale resident who needs to get to Grand Central by 9 a.m. has to leave home by 7:12 a.m. if they take the bus and subway, the analysis shows. They could leave almost an hour later if they took the LIRR, but the $10 ticket costs more than 3 times the $2.75 for a MetroCard trip.

An express bus from Rosedale to midtown can also take more than 80 minutes each way.

The Freedom Ticket could let some riders shorten commutes by as much as 40 hours more a month -- the equivalent of an entire work week, according to the Council.

That includes some Queens riders who take bus and subway trips to other outer boroughs, such as Brooklyn.

"There are people who spend two, 2.5 hours to go to work," said riders' watchdog William Henderson.

For them, an LIRR trip from Queens to the Barclays Center would save considerable time -- and give the MTA the opportunity to put paying riders in empty seats. Almost 50% of LIRR seats are vacant in the morning rush-hour between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal, and 60% in the late afternoon and early evening.

Some residents have shunned the bus to the subway altogether, and are using dollar vans instead to get to work, the report notes. Many vans are illegal and operate without insurance.

After the MTA tests out the Freedom Ticket in southeastern Queens, the proposal calls for it to be expanded in 2019 to all rail stations that are 0.8 miles or more from the subway. That limit would be lifted in 2022 -- giving residents in neighborhoods that range from Riverdale in the Bronx to Forest Hills in Queens a faster commute option.

The MTA said it was open to the idea.

"It's an interesting proposal to alleviate the concerns of some of our customers, though it would certainly carry a financial impact for the MTA as well, so we'll consider it next year as we determine how to structure the next in our series of modest fare increases equivalent to the rate of inflation," said its spokesman Adam Lisberg.

The analysis estimated that the MTA would lose $4.3 million a year in the first phase of the program but would make $1.5 million for every 1,000 riders a year that filled empty LIRR seats.

Nora Tonin, 62, of Kew Gardens said the proposal was a good idea. "Sometimes it takes me one, two hours to get into Manhattan," she said. "If they can do it, I hope they do."

Sofia Tamarchko, a 40-year-old who lives off Queens Boulevard, also said she would use it. "I ride for a long time everyday," she said. "That would be fantastic."

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