MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota expects to launch a pilot program this year that would bridge bus, subway and Long Island Rail Road service within New York City under one ticket.
The idea behind the transit pass, known as the Freedom Ticket, is to allow riders to transfer seamlessly between the Long Island Railroad and the city’s bus and subway system to cut commute times while also tapping into underutilized, more expensive LIRR service.
“I fully expect it to happen this year,” Lhota told state lawmakers in Albany while testifying on the MTA’s budget Thursday, regarding the pilot. “When I say this year don’t think about it as the end of the year. It can happen relatively soon.”
Lhota said the agency was “very, very close” to starting the pilot, which is now months behind schedule. The program was supposed to launch this past fall, according to MTA board members and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. But it was put on the back burner so that the agency could prepare for Amtrak renewal work at Penn Station and craft Lhota’s Subway Action Plan to improve service, sources familiar with the pilot said.
As they described it last year, the Freedom Ticket test will be implemented at certain LIRR stations, mostly along the Atlantic Branch, including Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal, East New York and Nostrand Avenue stations, as well as Queens’ Laurelton, Locust Manor, Rosedale and St. Albans stations.
Under the pilot, riders will be able to buy one-way tickets, weekly or monthly passes valid for both subway and LIRR trains. Fares will be more expensive than MetroCard rates, but likely significantly cheaper than the cost of purchasing both an LIRR ticket and MetroCard.
Lhota said he needed “one more piece of clearance” before the pilot could go further, but he did not elaborate on what that “piece” was. His office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
The chairman also noted that it was important to launch the new fare option on a limited test as opposed to a system-wide unveiling.
“It’s very important to be able to do [a pilot] to understand how habits change; how many people use it; how do we adjust it accordingly before anything is rolled out larger,” he said.