On Aug. 19, the manned ticket window of the Long Island Rail Road’s Floral Park branch was officially closed, forcing residents to use the ticket kiosks outside of the waiting area. The Floral Park location was among 20 closed across Long Island. The LIRR said it had to close the ticket offices – the least used of the system’s 50 open offices – to cut costs and save more than $2 million by the end of the year.
The additional 19 ticket office closings have taken place at the following stations: Farmingdale, Bethpage, Broadway, Cedarhurst, Douglaston, East New York, Floral Park, Forest Hills, Hewlett, Kew Gardens, Lindenhurst, Little Neck, Massapequa Park, New Hyde Park, Northport, Nostrand Avenue, Oceanside, Rosedale, Seaford and Woodmere.
“With the declining economy the MTA identified a series of cost-saving measures last year in an effort to minimize the size of a potential fare increase and keep the budget balanced,” says a spokesperson for the LIRR. “While the state ultimately identified new funding sources to preserve existing train service, the package did not provide for the restoration of all of the expense reductions, including the closing of some of the LIRR’s least utilized ticket windows. The LIRR remains committed to providing a high level of customer service and is confident that riders will make ample use of its easy-to-use ticket machines, which are available 24-hours a day at these stations. Customers can also take advantage of the LIRR’s popular Mail & Ride program for monthly tickets, and Internet-based discounted WebTicket.”
The Floral Park station was selected based on 2007 window ticket sales, says the LIRR. The 20 stations where ticket windows were closed had the least-utilized ticket windows in the system in 2007. The cuts were part of the LIRR 2009 budget, approved by the MTA Board of Directors in 2008 and based on 2007 ticket sales, the last year available at the time. In 2007, the Floral Park station – with ticket office sales of 24,362 – ranked 16th lowest.
According to the LIRR, most LIRR customers who purchase tickets at a station do so using the kiosk ticket vending machines, which were first introduced in 1983. Approximately 70 percent of LIRR tickets sold are purchased through ticket vending machines. Station waiting rooms will continue to remain open with their regular hours, says a LIRR spokesperson, and train service will not be affected. Cleaning schedules for the stations will not be changed and restrooms will be available for customer use during the same time periods currently in effect.
Critics contend that the kiosks, which take credit cards as well as cash, have a tendency to “freeze up” during the winter months. Moreover, if the kiosks are broken or vandalized, commuters need to purchase their tickets onboard the train with cash and be charged a mandatory step-up fee, which can be refunded only if the commuter sends the ticket to the LIRR headquarters in Jamaica and explains the situation.
Floral Park Trustee Tom Tweedy, village liaison to the LIRR, told the Floral Park Dispatch that the railroad is getting further and further away from its customers.
“We’re not getting the service we once got,” Trustee Tweedy said. “It’s sad that the only accountability the MTA has actually used has not been in money but in people.”
For someone who has ridden the rails every day for the past 20 some odd years, Trustee Tweedy believes Floral Parkers are being penalized for participating in programs like mail and ride and wonders what commuters, including seniors, will do when the ticket machines are down.
“It really is a draconian cut…” he said, reaffirming his belief that the railroad needs to be audited.
Currently, fares from Floral Park to Penn Station are $7.75 off-peak, which rises to $14 if a ticket is bought on board; $10.75 peak, which rises to $17 if the ticket is purchased on board.
According to LIRR Assistant Director of Media Relations Salvatore Arena, there are no plans or funding to purchase any additional ticket machines – nor are there any plans to move a machine inside the waiting room. The ticket machines are outside the building so that they are available 24 hours a day. He says that LIRR ticket machines have a very high reliability rate and almost all stations have two machines.
“The machines are monitored in real time at our servicing headquarters. In the unusual event that both ticket machines are out of service, the customer should purchase a ticket on the train, paying the higher, buy-on-board fare. That ticket can then be submitted to the LIRR for a refund of the extra charge by following the directions on the ticket. Customers should also know that LIRR ticket machines can operate in limited service mode. For example, if there is a coin jam or a currency jam, the machine has the ability to continue to sell tickets by credit or debit card only, until the jam is corrected,” Arena said.
The closing of the ticket window took many commuters by surprise since the exact list of which towns would be affected was never published. “In the so-called Doomsday Budget, closures to manned ticket windows on Long Island were mentioned but not to specific stations,” says Bill Henderson, executive director of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. “The budget said that the 20 stations with the lowest ridership would have their manned ticket window eliminated but did not name specific stations.”
Henderson says that the closures will not be reversed any time soon. “According to the LIRR’s own financial data, the elimination of the manned ticket windows at these 20 stations … is part of their financial savings for the next four years. There is nothing that indicates that they will restore them.”
According to its most recent polling of ticket buying usage at its stations, in 2007 the Floral Park ticket window sold 24,362 and 77,925 tickets were sold through the vending machines. In nearby New Hyde Park, which was also closed, that ticket window sold 21,362 tickets and 106,844 tickets were sold through the vending machines.