The LIRR’s ridership continued to fall in 2011, and was surpassed by Metro-North Railroad as the busiest commuter railroad in the U.S.
Why is this important? Increased transit ridership helps reduce traffic congestion by taking motor vehicles off the road. An efficient transit system can provide quicker access to jobs, reduce air pollution and help to improve the overall livability of our communities.
How are we doing? LIRR ridership declined by just over 1% in 2011, the third year that it has decreased since the recession began in 2008. This was in contrast to the ridership growth experienced by Metro-North and New Jersey Transit. In 2011, Metro-North carried over 82 million passengers, still short of its pre-recession highs, but almost a million more riders than the LIRR. New Jersey Transit rail surpassed its pre-recession ridership – setting a new record for the railroad. In 2011 NJT rail carried over 78 million passengers, an 8% increase over the prior year. If this rate of growth is sustained over the coming year, NJT’s ridership will eclipse both the LIRR and Metro North.
Over the last decade, LIRR ridership declined by 5 percent, while Metro-North and New Jersey Transit grew by 12% and 23%, respectively. Some of this can be attributed to differences in population growth, but most is due to changes in service and land use. Both Metro-North and New Jersey Transit added capacity and new service in the last decade—a third track on the Harlem line and more reverse commute service in the case of Metro-North, and Midtown Direct service bringing more NJT riders into Penn Station. Both of these were accompanied by more transit –oriented development near rail stations, further boosting ridership.
Long Island Bus or Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE for short) shed almost a million riders in 2011. This 3% drop brings ridership below 2001 levels and indicates that the service reductions made by Veolia might be starting to affect ridership. Westchester County Bee Line also lost passengers, a 2% drop. NJT bus grew by 3 million passengers in 2011 or 2% over the prior year. While this is significant, it’s still 6 million passengers short of pre-recession levels. Suffolk County Transit grew by 2% in 2011 or 39% since 2001, continuing a pattern on strong growth by one of the newest transit providers in the region.