Let's face it: Long Island residents who work in New York City have no choice but to take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to get to their place of employment.
The only alternative is to drive in, but the staggering cost of gas and tolls makes that an unappealing option for most commuters. Additionally, the entire city is designated as a tow-away zone, which means officers may tow cars away any time they are parked illegally.
Furthermore, there are a lack of available spots, and parking signs are extremely confusing. For most commuters, the strong possibility of nightmarish rush-hour traffic seals the decision to ride the LIRR.
Think Long Island commuters should just take a subway to work? Guess again. The eastern-most stop on the MTA New York City subway line is located in Far Rockaway, over 45 miles from Suffolk County locales like Stony Brook and Ronkonkoma.
With driving not a viable alternative and the lack of nearby subway stops, Long Island residents have been plunking down their hard-earned cash to ride the LIRR to work for over 100 years. Much like the New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road has a fare system that is based on the distance a passenger travels, as opposed to the New York City subway, which has a flat rate throughout the entire system.
The railroad is broken up in to eight numbered fare zones. As of early 2013, a passenger traveling to New York City from a Zone 10 location like Stony Brook, Ronkonkoma, or Port Jefferson is charged $334 for a monthly ticket or $107 for a weekly pass. Even a Zone 7 stop like Glen Cove -- located just 30 miles east of New York City -- comes with a hefty monthly price tag of $254 or $81.25 for a weekly.
That's a lot of money for the average Long Island resident, but most just accept it, because they are accustomed to the routine of taking the train to work every day, even as fares rise.
"I think the rising LIRR prices are discouraging and play a huge role in whether people are going into the city," said Rego Park resident Liz Degen. "Not just during the week, but on the weekend, too."
A New Alternative to the LIRR?
Last month, BoltBus launched a nonstop bus service between Long Island and New York City. BoltBus operates from three Long Island locations, including Ronkonkoma at the Courtyard Marriot, the Long Island Expressway Park and Ride at Exit 49 of the LIE, and the Hilton Garden Inn at Riverhead.
Some of the new BoltBus locations feature nice amenities, including heated waiting rooms a few steps away from the boarding areas. The buses arrive in Manhattan at 40th Street and Third Avenue and at 59th Street and Third Avenue, just blocks away from where the LIRR pulls in.
BoltBus revolutionized curbside bus service in 2008 by being the first bus to offer on-board amenities such as leather seats, extra legroom, free Wi-Fi, and power outlets. BoltBus general manager David Hall explained in a WMCTV report that the new bus service is an express route between Long Island and midtown Manhattan. He touted the service as a convenient, hassle-free travel option unmatched in value, luxury, and safety.
As for pricing, one-way fares start at just $1, far lower than the cost of riding the LIRR. Fares are adjusted based on market demand. The earlier passengers purchase their tickets, the lower the fare. A ticket purchase guarantees a seat on the selected schedule.
Is BoltBus a Legitimate Threat to the LIRR's Dominance in the Market?
Extra legroom, free Wi-Fi, leather seats, and $1 fares sound great, but BoltBus still has a ways to go before it can steal a sizable chunk of customers away from the LIRR.
Since the majority of the commuters going from Long Island to New York City do so for work-related purposes, timing plays a key factor in travel decisions. People need to get to work on time, so they may be more likely to plunk down a few extra dollars to take the LIRR, rather than risk hitting rush-hour traffic on a bus route.
"As much as the Oyster Bay LIRR line is terrible, I would probably still take the train," Glen Cove resident Stephanie Herbert said. "It has to be faster than the bus."
Also, studies show there is a stigma of riding the bus in America, and that's something BoltBus will have to seriously consider. Low fares seem to be a good starting point to draw non-traditional bus riders away from the LIRR. "I have never taken the bus in my life, but I would definitely consider it for the $1 fares," Degen said.
Some Long Island residents are excited about finally having a legitimate alternative to the LIRR. "This is a no-brainer," Glen Head resident Joe Caraccio said of jumping ship from the LIRR to BoltBus. "Whenever the government fails at providing a service, the free market steps in and provides a much better service at a fraction of the cost."
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