Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

December 7, 2021

Hundreds of thousands of commuter rail riders inadvertently paid for peak rates during the pandemic, MTA data show – even as cheaper rates outside peak periods have been in place for 20 months.

At least 340,000 peak tickets were purchased between April and December last year, figures that emerged from 2020 Long Island Rail Road ticket sales data obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request from the LIRR Today blog and verified by THE CITY.

The MTA said it has issued about 7,000 refunds for single trips and 10-trip packages that were mistakenly purchased at top prices – just over 2% of total sold – but could not say how much commuters had paid too much.

“It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of money,” Lisa Daglian, CEO of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, told the MTA about the hundreds of thousands of overcharged tickets. “And that’s for something that should not be so difficult to change.”

The transit agency did not remove the more expensive option of traditional rush hours from ticket machines to LIRR and Metro-North until November 1, when a banner was also added to the MTA eTix app, reminding riders that “off-peak” fares remain in force on all trains so far. “

The MTA did not provide figures for Metro-North as part of the information request, saying it does not have figures for how many riders have paid for peak rates in 2021.

In the dark

The agency claims that software on ticket machines that can be dated back to the mid-1990s is not easy to update – and that it made more sense to be patient with significant overhauls of the machines when the “essential service plan” was implemented in the spring of 2020, when the number of riders and the MTA’s economy collapsed.

“We have loudly and proudly announced that off-peak pricing is in effect at any time during the MTA apps pandemic, on sales screens, and we will continue this message until peak pricing is restored,” said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman. , to THE BY.

A Metro-North ticket kiosk at Grand Central, December 1, 2021 /Ben Fractenberg / BYEN

Riders who have paid for tickets at peak rates instead of at rates outside peak periods can fill out forms for claiming a refund online. According to the agency, paper tickets must be sent to MTA’s customer service office or handed in at a ticket window – photocopies will not be accepted.

“We’ll see how much it’s a career,” said Jay Carter, 38, who told THE CITY he paid too much for high-cost trips on Metro-North for several weeks after he began commuting in April between Grand Central Terminal and his new job at Larchmont. “I would say it’s worth it.”

Single tickets are LIRR’s most popular and accounted for about 70% of ticket prices sold last year, according to the data.

In March 2020, when passengers crashed on trains, buses and subways in the early stages of the COVID crisis, the two commuters switched to round-the-clock low-cost fares for single journeys and 10-journey packages that can cost 30% to 40% less than peak fares.

The MTA has said it plans to keep the reduced prices until the end of this year, while the railways are steadily rebuilding the number of riders, which fell by more than 90% below the peak of the pandemic.

LIRR had a pandemic-era high of 166,700 riders on November 30, according to MTA data, a drop of about 49% from an average weekday in November 2019. Meanwhile, Metro-North has been slower to rebuild its rider numbers with more than 130,000 riders in several days last month and on weekdays fell more than 50% from the level before the pandemic.

But some riders have been unaware of the low-cost prices when they returned to the railways.

‘Can be added’

Carter, who lives in Manhattan, said he only became aware of the new prices after paying a conductor $ 9.75 for a trip to Larchmont from the Grand Central Terminal – instead of the $ 12.75 fare he was used to. to.

He said he paid for the fare on the train before it departed because he was unable to complete the purchase on the app.

“If there is information about the prices, it would be at Grand Central, and it was not,” he said. “Unless you had to buy a ticket face – to – face, I do not know how I could have figured it out.”

LIRR ticket machines at Penn Station warn riders of the highest price suspension /Jose Martinez / BYEN

John Track, a Metro-North rider living in Connecticut, said he is annoyed that peak tickets are still available for purchase on the e-Tix app, despite the banner saying prices without for peak load remains in force on all trains.

“I do not think the signs are enough,” said Track, 33. “What needs to be changed is to remove the option – that’s the only acceptable option.”

Daglian, of the Citizens Advisory Committee, credited the MTA for sending updates to the app and ticket machines. She said she first asked the agency in the spring of 2020 to put up signs about the full-time shift to low-cost tariffs, after noting that riders paid too much on LIRR.

“I’ve definitely seen people pay too much,” she told THE CITY. “I asked the conductor if it was something they saw regularly, and he said they see it all the time.”

Carter guessed he was paying too much by about $ 50 for peak prices during his occasional commute last spring to and from Westchester.

“It’s a hassle,” he said. “But for some people, it’s really going to increase.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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