Long Island Rail Road President Phil Eng and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran appeared live on LI News Radio with Jay Oliver today, April 14, to encourage riders to return to the Long Island Rail Road. The joint radio appearance preceded an event on the same topic that the two officials will hold later this morning.
A transcript of the interview appears below:
Jay Oliver: That is Phil Eng, president of the railroad. The County Executive Laura Curran. We have both on the same line. We’ll get to each. First let's bring in the President of the LIRR. His name is Philip Eng, and they are, I think they are both en route somewhere. I think I have that right. Phil is that correct? Good to have you.
Phil Eng: Good morning. Thank you for having me. Yes, I appreciate County Executive Curran and her and I will be riding the Long Island Rail Road shortly to Hicksville, where we'll welcome riders to take mass transportation on Long Island Rail Road. And we wanted to talk about how it's the best most convenient way to go. Roads are getting more and more congested and the Long Island Rail Road is running as the most reliable service we've ever had in our history. Last year was a record on time performance and we're continuing to address infrastructure issues so when people are ready to come back, when businesses reopen as they are right now, we'll be more than ready to accommodate them.
Oliver: Ridership taking a massive hit during this pandemic. Where would you say we are at right now as things are opening up. As we speak, Phil, where are we at right now with the LIRR ridership? Where are you at number wise?
Eng: Jay, when we when we last spoke, we were about 25% of our pre-pandemic ridership. Right now, over the last two weeks, we've seen a gradual increase and we're actually carrying about 28% of the pre-pandemic ridership, and that's the most we've had since the pandemic started. And I think that goes hand in hand with the businesses reopening, vaccines being made available. You know, last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Mets fans back on, on the LIRR to CitiField, and I hope to be doing more of that. And today is another one of these events where we want to remind our riders that the trains are clean as they've ever been. We’re sanitizing our trains and our stations every day. The information that we've made available in the, you and I spoke about LIRR Train Time App, is world-class information with regard to how much space is available on cars in real time. And as I mentioned earlier, the, the amount of infrastructure work we're doing to provide a reliable, safe commute for our riders is unprecedented.
Oliver: A couple of weeks ago, in the press, people were calling for Phil's head. And listen, I defended him, because if you're going to not have the commuters, based on what's going on well why do you have to have the cars? I mean that’s an added cost and the MTA is going through some fiscal situations we all know. But low and behold those cars were added and everything else now. Are you somewhat concerned with everybody kind of going remote these days? Now listen, not everyone, a lot of people going back to the city and to their offices and everything else, but a lot of people are exiting there. What about that concern, as far as the workforce and all that has occurred over the last twelve months, Phil Eng?
Eng: Jay, I know that the ridership, particularly the five day a week commuters will change. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The, the notion of, you know I was just riding this morning talking to some riders and they were telling me how their, you know their companies were looking at two, three days a week. And that's, that's, you know, good for the employee and we'll be able to accommodate that. The projects that we are having, the Third Track, the East Side Access, the Double Track that we finished in the Ronkonkoma branch. All of that will allow us to adjust train service, reverse commute, inter-island commuting. And the notion is that, you know these riders will use the Long Island Rail Road. I'm confident of that. The discretionary trips on weekends, you know, despite the fact that we had a weekend outage for switch removal work, we carried 40% of our weekend ridership this weekend and the prior week where we didn't have it where nearly 50% of our ridership. So with all the transit-oriented development happening on Long Island, with the future generations looking to get out of their cars and take more mass transportation and live in transit-oriented communities, I'm confident Long Island Rail Road will not only see ridership come back but also be here for the long term and that's, that's why those difficult decisions that I have to make are to look how to provide service for today, but also protect the future of the railroad.
Oliver: It’s always, listen, you're in a tough spot. There's no question. Listen, I still think the trains are the way to go, especially, you know you had an increase in the bridges, tunnels, so in the major crossroads. And that started on Sunday. And yet, you know, they're going to see some hikes as far as the rates. Commuters are going to have to pay that in a couple soon, right? That's coming. So, in essence, I do think, you know, the railroad is the way to go. I think it's safer and what not, but a lot of people think about that as well as far as costs right? Because they have seen increases as they're getting in their cars making their way in and around correct?
Eng: Well I certainly understand the expense of commuting, and whether you're driving your own car or you're taking Long Island Rail Road there are expenses that everyone has to weigh. The one thing I will say is if you taking Long Island Rail Road, you can sit back, relax, whether you're working on the train or listening to music or reading a book. It's a much more convenient and relaxing way, particularly as we've made the train service more reliable. And that's very important. That's what I heard three years ago, when I first started in this position and that's what we're committed to doing, giving them a safe, reliable trip. And, and leave the driving to us as we've been saying.
Oliver: Phil Eng, President of the LIRR. Now right beside you, we are going to get to our next guest. Phil, we appreciate a couple of minutes with you, as we'll bring in the County Executive now of Nassau, who with you is on her way to Hicksville via the trains, and we say very good morning to the County Executive Laura Curran. Madame County Executive, good to have you once again, not in your usual spot, but we'll take you now.
Laura Curran: Good morning. Yeah, I'm really excited to ride the train with Phil Eng and with Anthony Simon, who represents a lot of the workers on the train. I'm a big fan of LIRR. I'm a big fan of public transportation. And we really just want to reassure people that it's a great option that roads are packed again. Some are saying it's even worse than it was pre-pandemic. So, we know that in Nassau County 61% of adults have been vaccinated, that is 45% of our total population. I know that under Phil’s Eng’s leadership, the Long Island Rail Road is doing a great job in sanitizing and keeping their riders safe, keeping their folks safe. And I just want to point out one more thing. So, if history is any guide, I'm confident that the Long Island Rail Road is going to come roaring back. So, in the, in the Spanish Flu of 1918, yes, ridership on public transit dropped, but in 1919 public transit in and around New York City saw 100 million more rides than the year before. So I think that tells you that you know it's going to take maybe a little bit of time, but I encourage people as we reawaken the economy as we get back to work, that really, you know, explore public transportation as a great safe and potentially much quicker options.
Oliver: I’m with you on that. You bring up the inoculations and everything else a little bit of a hiccup with his J & J shot that's on pause. But with that being said, the other medicine is still ample, correct? Moderna, Pfizer? So, is there going to be an old switcheroo as far as that's concerned, those who have had appointments with J & J, the Coliseum and everything else. Where are you at with that as far as the shot is concerned?
Curran: Well I really have to thank Northwell because yesterday we had scheduled appointments, more than 300 appointments with the J & J vaccine. Normally we do Moderna, but we were excited to get the J & J, one done. Of course, that's on pause now, but Northwell really helped us out with getting doses of Moderna to the Coliseum so we could keep those appointments, that people who have them. Now, you know, they're going to have to come back for the second shot, but at least they got those appointments honored. Yeah you know this Johnson and Johnson news is a setback, it's a setback, but our program remained robust. We're committed to getting all of the doses we received of Moderna and Pfizer into people's arms. My concern is that people are going to lump everything into the Johnson and Johnson. It's different. Moderna and Pfizer are very, very different. And even with the Johnson and Johnson, out of, almost seven million doses, we're talking about six cases. So, we, you know, I know the FDA and the CDC they're looking at it all, we're on pause but potentially that could be available again.
Oliver: Talking with Phil Eng President of the railroad. Laura Curran, of course, County Executive, Nassau. They're riding the trains today. They're getting the word out, it’s safe, making sure people are aware. Listen, you can commute, via the train, the rails, it is a way to go. Phil mentioned, Laura, what 28% ridership, and you can understand that people, you know, are somewhat apprehensive, you know. I know a lot of people in the workforce, some now have found a better way of life via the home way of doing things, as far as work is concerned. I mean, are you confident those numbers can rise in the next couple of months, you know, do we get to a point where, you know we have acceptable ridership, the cars, justifying the commuter and what not? We know it's costly and everything else, but are you, are you okay, as far as the thinking down the road here? Are things getting somewhat back to normal?
Curran: Well, I think we cannot ignore the fact that some people's habits have changed permanently. People who, more people working more days from home, technology has really caught up to allowing that to happen, that is. It's realistic to think that everything's going to be exactly the same, it’s not. However, I would ask people to explore public transit options, not even just for work, but for, for just traveling around or, you know, going out to eat, for socializing, I know people are already doing that. If they don't want to drive if they are going to have a few drinks. Public transportation is really the lifeblood of the economy, whether it's the pleasure for tourism or for work. And I encourage people, you know, you're going to make the right decision for yourself, for your life, but I would encourage you to have a look at public transit, give it another look. I know that whether it's NICE Bus, whether it's the Long Island Rail Road, those folks are doing everything they can to keep their riders safe, and you can get there more quickly, you can read, you can watch your Netflix, you know you can catch up on your work. It gives you more free time and I would argue it's better for your blood pressure, because you're not stuck in traffic.
Oliver: And I’d….let me tell you, I’ve been doing it for a long, long time. I'll take the train any day of the week. Especially if you have to leave the city after 2:30, which I have always said getting through that Midtown Tunnel is that nightmare back to the east. Always a pleasure. Ride safely, we'll talk to you in a couple of weeks.
Curran: I look forward to it, Jay. Thank you.
Oliver: There you go, Phil Eng and Laura Curran checking in via the railroad taking the ride from Hicksville and getting the word out regarding commuting via the rail.