Gov. Cuomo continues to talk about his promised one-seat ride for LIRR riders when traveling to the future Islanders Belmont Arena. Clearly he is not a Long Island resident and no real understanding of how the LIRR operates.
Anyone in the transit industry knows that customers being asked to pay a premium fare always prefer a one-seat ride. This is what is provided for most who attend events at Madison Square Garden or the Brooklyn Barclays Center.
Why would any Islanders fan coming from Nassau or Suffolk County want to first drive to a local LIRR station, park their car (most lots are full by 8 a.m. so there would be no capacity for those traveling to day time events), board the LIRR (and in some cases have to switch at Huntington. Mineola, Babylon or Ronkonkoma from a diesel to electric train) then board a shuttle bus from the new Elmont LIRR station westbound north platform which will not open until early 2023 at the earliest.
Service from this platform is dependent upon both the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track and $11.2 billion East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal being completed by end of December 2022. Who knows if the east bound south platform will be completed in time to coincide with the Islanders Arena October 2021 promised opening date.
Babylon, Speonk, West Hempstead, Long Beach and Far Rockaway branch riders will always have to change at Jamaica (walk up the stairs, take an escalator or elevator from platform levels serving tracks one, two or three to the mezzanine level.
Next walk across the mezzanine and down the stairs, escalator or elevator to tracks 7 or 8. Then they will have to wait for the next eastbound train to reach the new Elmont Station followed by boarding a shuttle bus to reach the Arena.
Port Jefferson, Huntington, Oyster Bay and Ronkonkoma branch riders will have to do the same until the Elmont Station westbound platform and overpass are completed. Port Washington branch riders have the added pleasure of an additional transfer at Woodside. As a result, I predict 95 percent or more of those attending Islanders games, rock concerts or other events will elect to drive or take a car service.
Will the cost for LIRR tickets at the new Elmont Belmont Islanders Arena Station be priced at Zone 3 or more expensive Zone 4? Will thousands of nearby Queens residents who might use this new LIRR station be offered any weekday Atlantic Pilot or weekend City Zone discount tickets?
Many Queens elected officials previously lobbied for a park and ride lot that would be served by express buses. They could bring constituents from eastern Queens directly to jobs in Manhattan. There is no mention of this.
What about Nassau Inter County Express, NYC Transit and private bus operators, who may establish new routes for serving the new Belmont Arena.
Will this new LIRR station also include a bus terminal to accommodate NICE bus, NYC Transit bus, MTA bus and private bus charter operators who may establish new routes for serving the Islanders Belmont Arena?
There are thousands of reverse-commuters from New York City who travel from either Flushing or Jamaica to jobs or schools in Nassau County via NICE Bus. Using the Metro Card with a free transfer from the NYC Transit subway to NICE Bus, this only costs $2.75. They ride the bus rather than more expensive LIRR. The same will be true for many of the promised 3,000 plus jobs at the Islanders arena, hotel, retail, restaurants and conference center, who will be dependent upon bus service to access job opportunities.
In many cases, they don’t own a car and can’t afford LIRR premium fares. How is the Empire State Development Corporation planning for the establishment of these future services? Will the developer or MTA pay for these transit improvements?
No wonder both MTA President Pat Foye and LIRR President Phil Eng or their representatives were not present at the ground-breaking ceremony. They both are aware of how unrealistic some of Governor Cuomo’s promises are when it comes to LIRR capital and service improvements for the Belmont Park Islanders Arena.
Station renderings of the new Elmont station did not show LIRR riders lined up waiting for electric shuttle buses for a one mile trip to the Islanders Belmont Park Arena. How long will it take to board and exit the buses before arriving at the arena? There does not appear to be any provisions for bus shelters or a canopy.
They are a common courtesy for protection of patrons from rain, snow or cold winter weather. Imagine several hundred people exiting the train at the new Elmont LIRR Station. What will be the frequency of service and how many buses can be accommodated at the same time for boarding?
Who is going to purchase, operate and maintain this new fleet of buses? Will they be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act? Who will build a facility for maintenance, storage and powering up the electric shuttle buses? Will there be enough equipment during peak periods to simultaneously serve both LIRR riders traveling to the Islanders Arena, hotel, conference center, movie theater and retail complex, while at the same time providing shuttle service within Belmont Park parking lots to the Arena? What are the capacity of these electric buses? They can vary based on size from 20 to 50 riders.
The MTA, LIRR and EDC anticipate 30% of up to 19,000 event attendees will arrive via LIRR. Imagine thousands of people leaving the arena at the same time all waiting for a shuttle bus for the return trip back to the Elmont LIRR Station. There appear to be no provisions at the Arena for canopies or shelters at bus stops.
There is no way hundreds to several thousand people could all board a series of shuttle buses at the same time. How many buses would be provided and at what frequency? Many could end up waiting between ten to thirty minutes before boarding. Why would any fan put up with another thirty minutes or more going to and from the Elmont LIRR Station to the Arena?
This in addition to all the time needed arriving, boarding, switching trains and finally arriving via the LIRR to the new Elmont LIRR Station.
Due to the excessive travel time from home to arena via LIRR, I predict only 5 percent versus the MTA, LIRR and EDC anticipated 30 percent of attendees will use the LIRR. This will result in increased local traffic as 95 percent of patrons will elect to drive or taking a car service.
Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.