Maragos delaying $28M Nassau payment to LIRR after survey

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Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos speaks at a news conference in Mineola on Thursday. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is delaying a $28 million county payment to the Long Island Rail Road after his office found 65 percent of commuters are unsatisfied with train service.

The survey of 380 LIRR riders at seven Nassau stations disproves the railroad’s poll from last year that showed 84 percent of commuters were satisfied with train service, Maragos said Wednesday.

The Democrat acknowledged that state law requires the county to eventually make the payment, which is part of its $143 million annual contribution to the LIRR. But he said he hopes it will push the railroad to address basic problems more quickly.

“Management is only deceiving itself with their internal polling, which seems to be as unreliable as the service being provided,” Maragos, who is running for Nassau County executive, said at a news conference in Mineola.

Maragos’ interns conducted the survey from July 17 to Aug. 6 as part of his audit of Nassau’s payments to the LIRR. They questioned commuters in person and online.

The LIRR received “failing grades” on all seven questions asked of commuters, including overall satisfaction, Maragos said. The survey found:

  • 64 percent of commuters are unsatisfied with on-time performance.
  • 55 percent said trains are too overcrowded.
  • 54 percent think platform announcements are poor and trains are too dirty.
  • 51 percent think stations are too dirty.
  • 50 percent think announcements on trains are unsatisfactory.

Maragos sent the results to Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota on Wednesday. The MTA said the survey sample represents 0.25 percent of the LIRR’s daily ridership.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Maragos should stop “grandstanding.”

The simple fact is, the County cannot by law withhold these funds,” Donovan said in a statement. “Even if they could, he would be hurting his own constituents and be a part of the problem, not the solution, if he withheld critically needed funding from the LIRR.”

Maragos’ findings contradict the LIRR’s 2016 Customer Satisfaction Survey, which surveyed more than 15,000 people and found 84 percent of riders were satisfied with overall service last year, up from 82 percent in 2015.

Maragos doubts that delaying the $28 million payment will have much of an impact, he said. But he wants Lhota to take more “aggressive” steps to fix the problems commuters identified. Some, such as dirty stations and bad announcements, could be addressed immediately, Maragos said.

“That doesn’t take money; it just takes good management and attention to detail,” Maragos said.

The MTA says the state comptroller would withhold $28 million in state aid to Nassau County if Maragos does not make the payment.

Some 93.1 percent of LIRR trains got to their destinations on time in July, making last month the best so far this year, the MTA said. And service disruptions caused by Amtrak’s repairs at Penn Station this summer proved less of a headache than expected.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has touted a $5.6 billion investment in LIRR infrastructure over the next several years. The “transformation” will include projects such as a third track on the Main Line through Nassau County and a second track on the Ronkonkoma branch, Cuomo has said.

 

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