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Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Clothing items and other miscellaneous items left near the Port Jefferson train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

At 7 in the morning, the Port Jefferson Train Station is largely deserted. At such an early hour, the morning frost glistened as the sun peaked over the horizon. It’s 39 degrees outside. By 7:30 a.m., the few commuters who travel on the morning’s last scheduled peak train simply stuck their hands in their pockets and waited outside. They were not drawn to the warmth and seats found in the nearby station office.

Port Jeff resident Gordon Keefer arrived at around 7:25 with his small dog, a maltese, carried in the bag beside him. He walks to the station from his home and takes the train from Port Jeff to Penn Station several days a week, but he can’t even remember a time when there were benches outside of the station or on the platform. He said the ticket building gets crowded when the temperature drops low enough, but he’s never seen it be too much of a problem.

“There’s a pro and a con to that,” he said about the prospect of benches. “Otherwise you would have some of the ‘regulars’ coming by.”

Many of those who stood outside waiting for the train did not feel too concerned about the lack of seating, but many understood “why” they weren’t there. As Port Jefferson village, Brookhaven town and Suffolk County continue to look for means to help the homeless population in Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station, village officials said there wouldn’t be any outdoor seating until they can get more support from the state and MTA.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities.”

Michael Mart

At the last Port Jefferson village meeting Jan. 6, one resident’s call for benches at the local train station led to a heated argument between him and local officials.

Michael Mart, a local firebrand, asked why the station lacked outdoor seating compared to other stations on the line. He said the lack of benches was very unfair to the elderly or infirm who want to use the station.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities,” Mart said. 

According to an MTA spokesperson, the LIRR coordinated with the mayor and other local residents to not include the benches when the train station was remodeled “as they were attracting homeless and others who could compromise the safety of customers and cleanliness of the station.”

There are 12 benches in the station’s ticket office, which is open from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily except Thursday when open until 7:15 p.m. 

Mayor Margot Garant said that although the current master plan does not eliminate seating at the train station, she does not support benches that would facilitate the homeless loitering or sleeping on them. Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force held a public meeting in December to discuss what’s currently being done, but members described the need for further legislation at every level of government that could better get the homeless population off the streets and into shelters. 

“I have been doing this for 11 years, every concern [with which] people have come to me I have addressed and done everything I can do about it,” the mayor said. “But I will not tolerate the people panhandling, making beds … We have a task force of 40 people around the table, we have been working on this every other week.”

She added there have been multiple calls about homeless in the area, from those sleeping under the tracks, in planters, or in the area surrounding the parking lot. Remnants of clothes and other discarded items are evident in the gravel lot behind what was once known as the Bada Bing restaurant. 

Pax Christi, a temporary homeless shelter located just feet from the station for men aged 16 and up, has come up in conversation during meetings multiple times recently. It’s one of the few shelters in the area that provides lodging for those who need it, but it can only contain people for a short time, as per state law. Residents have complained about people going outside into Pax Christi’s backyard through an unlocked security door, where they say they have harassed and heckled those standing on the platform.

The village has moved to create a higher fence between the platform and the Pax Christi building. The shelter’s director, Stephen Brazeau, told TBR News Media he has no problem with such a fence.

Part of the issue, the mayor said, is due to a lack of MTA police presence at the station, adding there are only a handful on the entire length of the northern rail lines. The MTA has said more officers will be deployed along the LIRR, but no number has yet been specified, the spokesperson said.

Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and member of the town task force, said the problem is perhaps even more prevalent on his side of the tracks.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of complaints about benches at the train station, we don’t need them,” he said. “The task force physically told the MTA don’t put benches back there.”

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that.” 

Barbara Sabatino

Barbara Sabatino, who along with her husband once owned the Port Jeff Army Navy surplus store before it closed in 2018, said homeless who used to occupy those nearby benches across from her shop at the station negatively impacted her business.

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that,” she said.

Members of Suffolk County Department of Social Services have said one of the hardest tasks of trying to help the homeless is to build trust, and to convince homeless individuals to be taken to a county shelter. It takes time, patience and having the right person there at the right time. 

Mart said part of the issue is too many people have the attitude they don’t wish to deal with or interact with the homeless. 

“If we feel uncomfortable dealing with people that are different, then that’s another issue, and that’s what I’ve seen most up there and heard everywhere else,” he said. “To deprive everyone else of an opportunity to use the train station comfortably is unfair.”

 

Outside the Port Jefferson LIRR Station. The ticketing office was subject to closure as part of the LIRR'S plan. Photo by Kyle Barr.

After initially proposing to prohibit cash transactions on trains, the Long Island Rail Road announced it has decided to shelve its plan temporarily at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee meeting Dec. 16.

Phillip Eng, LIRR president, disclosed at the meeting that the plan would be put on hold until the MTA’s new fare payment system, OMNY, is in place. The system is expected to be implemented into the LIRR and MetroNorth in early 2021.

The plan was meant to save the LIRR money by eliminating several tickets agent positions, as well as close of station ticket offices in Patchogue and Port Jefferson. This is despite recent renovations to the Port Jefferson station, which included additions to the ticket office.

Mederith Daniels, MTA spokesperson, confirmed the two ticket offices would no longer be closing in 2020. She also said the LIRR regularly reassesses customer usage of ticket windows and that the ticket offices could be considered for closure in the future.

the MTA spokesperson said these ticket offices were mainly used for conductor remittances and had a relatively small number of customers utilizing them. At Port Jeff and Patchogue – a full service ticket machine and daily ticket machine are located outside each of the station buildings.

Port Jefferson LIRR station serves 1,375 weekday riders, according to the MTA.

In November, OMNY surpassed three million taps from New York City bus and subway riders as well as riders from the Staten Island Railway.

 

the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. File photo

As a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transformation plan announced July 24, the agency will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent audit done by the NYS State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), which revealed that Bowery Residents’ Committee, the nonprofit provider of homeless housing and services for the MTA, had only done limited outreach to the homeless. On multiple occasions, workers appeared to intentionally close their office and isolate themselves, closing off services to clients seeking assistance, the audit found.

The newly announced task force will look at new metrics for measuring homelessness, updating subway rules and regulations to provide more clarity on what is a violation of the rules, enhanced enforcement of rules, improved coordination among agencies, the potential benefit of establishing a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA and additional access to resources for those in need. 

According to the MTA, the homeless population in the subway system has risen 23 percent in 2019 to date.

“Homelessness is a growing problem on the subway, with a growing impact,” said Veronique Hakim, MTA managing director. “Through this task force we’re going to bring together a broad and empowered group that will help us to develop an expedited plan to keep our customers and workers safe and our trains moving — while providing much-needed resources and assistance to this vulnerable population.” 

The task force will have 30 days to design a plan, focusing on housing alternatives and increased resources that MTA officials believe will lead to a significant reduction in homelessness and panhandling by the end of 2019. 

Similarly, the Long Island Rail Road has faced criticism from the state comptroller on the issue of homelessness at its stations. In an audit sent to the LIRR earlier this year, DiNapoli found that the company that the agency contracts, Services for the UnderServed, were not doing an adequate job. 

In the report, officials said that SUS failed to assist homeless people to the extent possible under its contract responsibilities and clients were not receiving the services they needed. 

During one visit, the comptroller’s office observed SUS workers drive up to a train station parking lot and sit in the vehicle for approximately three minutes before leaving. The workers neither walked the platforms nor visited the station’s waiting room, according to the audit.

In a response to the comptroller’s finding, the LIRR responded saying that are already complying with DiNapoli’s recommendations and are implementing steps to improve oversight and performance of SUS.

 

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The approved $175.5 billion 2019-20 New York State budget Monday brought some good and bad news for Long Islanders.

That bit of good news came in the form of up to $4 billion over five years for the Long Island Rail Road, making the possibility of improvements to the mass-transit system more promising than ever. However, we believe Long Islanders will need to keep an eye on these funds and make sure they are used for the improvements that mean the most to them.

From everyday commuters to city day-trippers, many can attest that a ride on the train is no picnic, and the transportation system is in desperate need of improvements. From overpacked train cars during rush hours to numerous delays, many Long Islanders opt to take their vehicles into the city instead of dealing with noisy, dirty trains.

A new congestion pricing program in Manhattan will enable LIRR to receive 10 percent of the revenue generated, which will allow funds to be used for capital improvement projects for trains and stations. The program, which will go into effect by 2021, will implement tolls for vehicles passing through Manhattan at 60th Street, with exclusions including FDR Drive, West Side Highway and Battery Park underpass.

While legislators have plenty of ideas for the LIRR, including more ADA compliant stations, electrified rails and more train cars — so when there is a problem with a car a replacement is available — this is the time for residents to speak up and let their concerns be heard. Not only do we urge our readers to notify their legislators with what they would like to see improved on the LIRR, we also appeal to the Metropolitan Transit Authority to hold public forums to allow passengers to air their grievances. With the amount of money being pumped into this, it cannot be squandered.

On the municipalities side of the budget, however, it’s not all good news. Long Island will see less in local aid and road repair funding. Multiple Brookhaven town officials have sent us opinions and letters about this loss. The town is losing $1.8 million in local aid and almost another $700,000 in road repair funding, a 15 percent decrease in its state highway aid.

The permanent 2 percent property tax cap, we hope will allow more Long Islanders to remain here, and not only survive but also thrive. However, it doesn’t compensate for the recent federal capping of SALT deductions, which has meant that many people were unable to claim their entire property tax on their federal taxes. Cost-of-living issues on Long Island are no joke, and while there is certainly a fair amount of political hand-wringing over budgets, more needs to be done on the state’s side to bring down the cost of living. The additional $1 billion in school aid helps, any loss in local funding does not.

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The MTA is currently updating the Stony Brook train station, which will lead to modern amenities and more security. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is giving the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road train station a makeover.

The MTA began renovations on the station’s train house July 23 and will continue working on the station into the fall. In addition to being renovated, the station house will receive modern enhancements and upgrades, according to Aaron Donovan, MTA deputy communications director.

The station house was built around 1888,
according to the book “Images of America: Stony Brook,” and rebuilt in 1917, according to the MTA. The one-story structure will be completely renovated inside and out, and there will be the addition of a Wi-Fi network and charging ports, according to Donovan. Commuters will soon see improved signage and digital information displays, including electronic information columns, and bicyclists will have new bike racks.

The station platforms will be updated with new lighting and closed-circuit television security cameras, according to Donovan. Plans also include sidewalk improvements and a new sculpture in the plaza area.

The MTA has upgraded the station throughout the decades, Donovan said, including the station’s high-level platforms being installed in 1985 and targeted renovation work done to platform railings, lighting and platform shelters in 2011.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement she was pleased that work began this summer.

“The Stony Brook train station is one of the most recognizable community landmarks in the Three Village area,” Cartright said. “There have been requests for upgrades over the years. I am pleased that the MTA saw the importance of meeting with community members including civic leaders, town Historic District Advisory Committee members and government officials to collaborate and develop a renovation plan. It is important that renovations to the station are in keeping with the historical character of the area while meeting the needs of modern travelers.”

Robert Reuter, a member of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, said he provided input but not officially on behalf of HDAC. 

“We encouraged them to preserve the existing and familiar green and beige color scheme, locate planned new ticketing machines away from the bay window, improve handicap accessibility both at the station and crossing the tracks, and minimize signage,” Reuter said.

In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced a proposal to invest $120 million to provide state-of-the-art enhancements to 16 LIRR stations, including Stony Brook — and also at Port Jefferson. The MTA covered $35 million of the investment to the railroad stations, according to its website. It is estimated by the LIRR that 2,330 customers use the Stony Brook train station daily.