LIRR’s Rite of Passage Vs. Equal Rights

by John Delach

The Long Island Railroad has long distrusted its most faithful riders, those commuters who regularly purchase monthly tickets. Granted, the LIRR deeply discounts these fares in the hope of attracting more and more patrons, but the railroad also fears that these “loyal riders” will misuse and subvert their discounted tickets. For many years ticket collectors had to punch most tickets four times a day, twice in the morning on the ride to the New York Pennsylvania Station and twice on the evening commute. Collectors punched tickets before and after the junction in Jamaica, Queens where all branches save the Port Washington Line meet.


The only discernible rationales for a double punch were either; A. to make sure passengers who changed trains at Jamaica had a valid ticket for both trains or, B. to prevent ticket takers from going to sleep after first punching the tickets. Thankfully, this practice ended in the early 1980s. Passengers only showed their monthly on each ride and ticket takers randomly punch them two or three times a month to prevent counterfeiting.


Today, the introduction of electronic tickets is changing the game, yet the acceptance of monthly paperless tickets is yet to catch on.


Since recorded time, or at least as far back as 1924, (the earliest monthly ticket I could find on eBay,) the collector dutifully has taken the new ticket in hand at the beginning of each month, looked  at the commuter and punched the “M” or “F” box to denote the commuter’s sex. This custom established a rite-of-passage especially relevant during the male dominated Twentieth Century commuter scene. Most of these male commuters seldom ventured into Manhattan on the weekend and it was not unusual for their teenage daughters to borrow daddy’s ticket for a Saturday night adventure in the Big Apple.


Most collectors accepted the borrowed monthlies without fuss or bother but invariably the chap who was having a bad day or simply was a prick refused to honor the ticket. Such callous action could initiate a drama proportionate to the lass’ hurt feelings or her funds on hand to buy a one-way ticket. My own daughter, Beth, and even my wife, Mary Ann, encountered such harassment at least on one occasion.


I actually suffered a case of mistaken gender identity myself. One month, a ticket-taker hastily punched the wrong letter on my monthly. I didn’t notice until one of his brothers chose to take issue with me. The fool challenged me even though I had signed the ticket on the front and printed my name and phone number on the back. My response to his: “What’s going on here, bub?” was a sharp, “Well, it looks to me like one of your dumb-ass buddies decided I needed a sex-change.”


My sharp words, no-nonsense tone, and the look in my eyes sent him reeling. He took the only course of action left; he punched the “M” marking me bi-gendered for the remainder of the month.


Now at long last, the LIRR’s gender fixation has finally hit a wall, one of those Twenty-First problems we are forced to address, the rights of transsexual and transgendered people. Newsday recently reported that a public advocate, Letita James, has put the railroad’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (MTA,) on notice that, “The railroad’s gender policy, ‘violates the spirit, if not the letter’ of state and city laws meant to protect human rights.”


“This unnecessary antiquated and reductive system poses serious constraints on a range of groups including those whose dress or appearance is gender-nonconforming and anyone who doesn’t feel their gender is relevant to riding public transit.”


(After reading my new book on writing clearly, I am sorely tempted to edit that statement so that she speaks clearly.)


But it is a quotation and, so be it.  Me thinks Ms. James is asking the LIRR’s to stop identifying passengers by their gender and let’s go with that.


So I say: Bully for you, Letita! Enough is enough. With all of their other problems, both the MTA and the LIRR should cave on this issue. Pennsylvania Station is falling down, the four East River tubes damaged by Sandy must be repaired sooner or later and emergency repairs at Penn Station this summer will likely cause mini-nightmares.


That’s not all, folks. The signal system at the LIRR’s Jamaica hub is on death’s doorstep and the LIRR has two insanely expensive capital improvement projects under way. The first, Eastside Access, is the road’s perpetual project to shift a good number of its trains from Penn Station to a new terminal under Grand Central Terminal. This boondoggle devours money like Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” yet has an opening date that continues to slip-slide away. That opening, once projected for 2012, now hovers at 2022 but don’t bet the ranch on it opening that year either.


Add to that the LIRR a multi-billion-dollar project to build a vital third track along the main line from Jamaica to Hicksville. Still in the early stages of design and funding, it seems likely to inherit a life of its own and cost escalation without end.


The time has come to say adios to M/F feature on monthly tickets. Why fight a fight you can’t win especially when it’s un-necessary and dumb? Let people free to be who they want to be and, for God’s sake, make the trains run on time.