It all sounds fine and dandy, but that’s great only until you’re late for work because a train didn’t show up on time. Or even worse, it takes too long to park your car.
“What I say as a lifelong Syosset resident is nobody asked for a new station house,” Legislator Joshua Lafazan said. “The community, in a loud and clear unanimity called for was more parking. Instead, we got a station house.”
More than 6,000 people head to the Syosset Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station each week. Just like most Long Islanders who are sick and tired of the lackluster service, Syosset natives are fed up.
As the station’s construction nears completion, scheduled for later this month, service is still mediocre.
“Something needs to be done here,” Lafazan said.
Construction began at the Syosset station on Oct. 19, 2018, as part of the LIRR Modernization Program. Ever since, the station has been one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) focal points in order to convey to commuters that they do indeed care about service.
To keep millennials on the island, Lafazan wants the LIRR to offer recent college graduates who work in Manhattan a cheaper fee.
One of the latest issues is that the LIRR’s newest fleet of trains have been delayed. The reason? Ongoing testing.
More often than not, the LIRR doesn’t have back-up train cars when something goes wrong, creating many issues.
“It’s leading to altered schedules, later trains and canceled trains,” State Senator Jim Gaughran said. “It’s amazing for such a large railroad to not have spare cars. It’s railroad 101: Have cars available if there are issues.”
Gaughran is taking the issue personally, heading over to the Syosset station and others in his district. He’s handing out transit surveys, asking locals for their opinions as he deals with MTA officials in Albany. During one of the state senator’s early morning trips to the station, MTA officials told him he couldn’t hand out the polls on the platform, so he did it in the parking lot.
Thus far, one of the biggest changes is a late train is now two minutes after the scheduled time, rather than the previous acceptable amount of six minutes past due.
“That’s important because then the statistics can then be reviewed across the board to see what lines and stations might have more issues,” Gaughran said. “Also, there has to be some reporting, like why was the train late?”
Gaughran and Lafazan both want to see the Port Jefferson line, which is what Syosset runs on, become fully electrified, as well as the Oyster Bay line. In doing so, it will improve commute times and make traveling to work much more convenient for those who take the LIRR.
“Service does not match the cost,” Lafazan said. “It’s woefully adequate because the Oyster Bay LIRR line is not acceptable for any modern transportation standard.”
The electrification of lines will speed up train service. Rather than using diesel, the electricity will be more reliable. It will prevent commuters from traveling to the Syosset station from different areas, preventing overcrowding issues.
The fact that the line isn’t electrified and it’s 2019 infuriates both politicians.
“For any modern 21st century standard, it’s unacceptable that this line isn’t electric as it is,” Lafazan said.
Lafazan recently held a meeting with several elected officials from the north shore, discussing different strategies to also improve the Oyster Bay line. At the meeting, he mentioned the Syosset station.
He said that if the Oyster Bay line is electrified, the Syosset station’s parking issues will be alleviated. The Syosset parking lot is run by the Town of Oyster Bay. But many commuters will take the Port Jefferson line rather than the Oyster Bay one since it’s more efficient, creating more parking issues by day.
Combined, lots on the Oyster Bay line have about 6,500 available parking spots. But the town issued more than 22,000 permit stickers last year.
“Syosset, for decades, the problem continues to be exacerbated, is that we need to do something about parking,” Lafazan said. “Unless you get to the lot at 6:40 a.m., you can’t find a spot.”
Instead of creating additional spots, the station’s exterior was refurbished. Now, Lafazan is worried that the rising cost of taking the train into New York City, plus the mediocre service, will give people no choice but to move away from Syosset and closer to the city.
To pay for the parking construction, Lafazan has an idea.
“What I’ve been speaking about is that revenue from congestion pricing should be allocated to Long Island Rail Road fixes,” he said.
He’s been in constant contact with Gaughran and other Long Island officials to advocate for exactly that. Thus far, they’re on board. Senator Gaughran and Assemblyman Charles Lavine will set up a meeting between a group of Long Island officials and LIRR President Phil Eng to discuss whether or not the plan, as well as making trips to the city more affordable for recent college graduates.
The good news for commuters is the station is certainly upgraded. It looks fantastic, featuring new artwork, up-to-date signs and much more.
But the bad news is the MTA’s official ridership report from 2018 said on-time performance dropped by 1 percent, despite the claim that it “improved significantly in the second half of the year.” 3,000 additional trains were delayed last year compared to 2017, the worst in nearly two decades, while ridership was at its highest since then.
With plans to improve the LIRR, riders can only hope for the best.