Long Island Rail Road President Phil Eng does not want his train crews to enforce the masking and distancing rules.
Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year issued an executive order mandating face coverings and social distancing on the MTA system during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re not asking [our train crews] to enforce the rules because that’s a role we believe belongs to others right now,” Eng said in an interview with Anton Media Group.
“Fortunately,” he added, “There’s been strong compliance.”
He observed that Long Island was one of the hot spots for the pandemic in the nation, but now it has reduced daily infections dramatically.
“I’d like to thank the riders for doing what we needed to do to help flatten the curve and put us in a spot where now we can rebuild the economy,” Eng said.
He estimated that compliance rates among riders were between 90 and 95 percent.
It did not start out this way, as people went about their normal routines, but Eng believes that the urgings of health experts and the LIRR’s constant messaging helped spread the word.
With the dramatic decrease in ridership, he noted, the railroad continued to put in service many more cars than needed, enabling riders to distance themselves.
“Back then it was 70 percent, now it’s 90 percent of our normal regular weekday service,” Eng said of the train sizes.
Eng is a proponent of technology and praised the newly-introduced TrainTime app.
“It’s the first in North America where we actually have real-time loading information for riders,” he said. “Now, people on the platform can see the train coming in and they can see all the loading of the cars on our electric fleet. They can position themselves to get into a car that has more room.”
The president said that the LIRR is “continuing to be compliant and we’re continuing to increase our messaging [about] face covering. We’re also continuing to hand out hand sanitizers and face coverings in our stations to help support this effort.”
He added, “We’re going to continue to disinfect our train cars every day and [some surfaces] twice a day. As to measures beyond that, we’ll continue to monitor the situation. We’re working with the MTA police with regards to helping us to patrol. Right now, we’re relying on our customers.”
Eng mentioned levels of disinfecting and cleaning that he’s never seen done before.
Downs and Up
“The numbers are coming back,” Eng said. “We’re seeing our ridership grow to about 20 percent of our regular service. And with each phase reopening of Long Island and New York City, it continually ticks up. That’s good news because it means the economy is slowly coming back and people are getting more comfortable with the new normal.”
Eng said improving communications with commuters was one of his aims when he took over four years ago.
“We want to get that feedback to make sure we improve service and convenience for our riders,” he said.
As of now, cash fares are not accepted and most ticket offices remain closed.
“That was closed because of the concerns for COVID-19,” Eng said. “We’re reviewing that as we reviewed every decision we made during this pandemic. We’re going to closely monitor that and if there’s an opportunity to open safely, not only for our employees but our customers, we’ll certainly look to address those concerns.”
Regarding refunds for unused monthly train tickets, Eng stated, “We continue to issue refunds in accordance with our procedures in the past. We certainly understand that the pandemic changed people’s travel patterns.”
He added, “Now that businesses are learning to adjust, we’re seeing a lot of variations in the ridership. We’re seeing monthly ticket holders come back. But we’re also seeing a lot of folks buy 10-trip tickets and daily tickets.”
When asked what he wanted to tell the commuters, Eng replied, “I want the riders to know that the Long Island Rail Road workforce and managers are doing everything possible to ensure that they have a safe ride.”
He praised the workforce, saying, “they’ve done a phenomenal effort. They battled through the quarantine and some positive [coronavirus] cases to continue to provide services and be creative and innovative going forward.”
He concluded, “It is a new normal for everybody. We’re going to be listening and adjusting.”
Odd and Ends
The MTA issued the following reminders to railroad riders:
• Remember to wear a mask or face covering. They’re required when you ride with us.
• Off-peak fares remain in effect.
• We’re not taking cash at counters or on trains. Use ticket vending machines or the MTA eTix app instead.
• Our lost and found office has reopened.
• Ticket offices at Penn Station, Jamaica Station, and Atlantic Terminal are open. At Jamaica Station and Atlantic Terminal, they’ll be open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
• Ticket offices and waiting rooms at all other stations remain closed.
• Customer areas at Penn Station are open 24/7.
For information, call the Customer Service Center at 511 or 718-217-5477.
January: 7.1 million
February: 6.6 million
March: 3.27 million