The South Fork Commuter Connection, which added extra trains during the morning and evening commutes, but was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will not be back this fall as hoped.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., State Senator Ken LaValle, Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc announced Monday that the South Fork Commuter Connection service will continue to be suspended into this fall.
There has been a drastic reductions in ridership across the Metropolitan Transportation System due to COVID-19. The LIRR is operating at about 22 to 23% of its normal ridership levels, a statement said. The MTA is reportedly experiencing a revenue loss of $200 million weekly.
Without federal assistance and with increased expenses to comply with necessary cleaning and disinfecting protocols, the MTA is estimating an approximately $12 billion budget shortfall between now and the end of 2021, Thiele’s office said. “As a result, there is no choice but to suspend many services including the SFCC,” he said.
Since its inception in the spring of 2019, the commuter service has offered an alternative way for people to get to the South Fork and avoid the traffic on the roads during rush hour. For the first six months of service, from March to August of 2019, the ridership on the South Fork increased 126% as compared to the prior year, data showed. According to the LIRR, 72% of that was directly attributable to the weekday trains. It was particularly well-used by teachers.
“Small businesses, local governments, and public authorities alike have been facing financial devastation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the LIRR is certainly no exception,” Thiele said. “The U.S. Congress must provide COVID 19 financial assistance to state and local governments to insure the provision of these essential services. It is disappointing that we will be unable to reinstate this service at this time. I thank my state and local partners, as well as President Eng, for their dedication and look forward to restoring this popular service as soon as possible.”
The commuter service was established after years of collaboration with communities and East End officials looking for a way to solve traffic woes. Schneiderman and Van Scoyoc said the service is still needed for the workforce in their towns.
“The train service not only allows workers, including a number of our town employees, to avoid the traffic, enjoy shorter commute times, and make good use of their time on the train, but it takes a significant number of carbon emissions-producing vehicles off the road. I sincerely hope that the MTA will be able to restore the service as soon as possible,” the East Hampton Town supervisor said.
“No one wants to see the SFCC suspended, but the truth is that the pandemic has changed everything, including the use of public transportation and the availability of revenue needed to support it,” the Southampton Town supervisor said. “My hope is to see the trains get back on track in the early part of next year.”
Officials said they are committed to restoring the services “when circumstances permit.” A quarterly meeting will be held to reassess restarting the service.
“We will continue to assess all service system-wide as we fight our way out of the financial tsunami this pandemic has wrought as well as the resulting precipitous drop in ridership. It is our hope to be able to restore the SFCC trains sometime in the not-too-distant future,” Eng said.