08/02/13 7:00pm
08/02/2013 7:00 PM

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an train out of Riverhead about 1:30 p.m. last week.

The Long Island Rail Road will extend its summer schedule on the Greenport to Ronkonkoma line by 10 weeks, stretching into November, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

The Long Island Rail Road, through its parent company, the MTA,  has been discontinuing all weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma after Columbus Day and before Memorial Day since 2010.

Summer service, as it’s now called, will now begin in April and end in November, said LIRR spokesman Sal Arena.

After November, there will again be no weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The MTA was able to identify additional money, revenue from dedicated state taxes as well as internal cost-savings, that could be used to enhance train service and other customer amenities,” Mr. Arena said. “The LIRR is making a number of improvements with its share of that money, including the extension of weekend service on the North Fork.

“It made this decision based on customer demand and specifically to expend service to the fall harvest period, an important tourist season for the region.”

About seven years ago, the LIRR was considering discontinuing service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma altogether, but backed off that plan.

“This service investment shows that the MTA and LIRR are committed to expanding and improving service to the East End,” South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said of the move.

Mr. Thiele has been an advocate for increasing train service on the East End, and one of the projects he has touted also got some money from the MTA. A proposal to establish a network of smaller “scoot” trains between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, as well as in other areas on Long Island, received $37.2 million from the state.

Currently, the LIRR is exploring the possibility of diesel-powered Scoot service on the Oyster Bay Branch and on the Main Line east of Ronkonkoma, Mr. Arena said.

The $37.2 million funding for such a purchase is in the current (2010-2014) MTA Capital Program, and will remain available even if it is not expended by the end of 2014, Mr. Arena said.

“Scoot” is a railroad industry term used to describe a train that would shuttle regularly between the first and last stops on a particular branch or branch segment, according to Mr. Arena.

Currently, the LIRR runs only about two trains per day in each directions between Greenport and Riverhead on weekends in the summer, and about three trains per day between Greenport and Riverhead during weekdays, prompting calls from East End residents and officials for better service.

“As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot service would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided,” Mr. Arena said. It “would encourage intra-branch and intra-Island travel, but also would require a transfer to electric trains for those traveling on to New York City.

“The LIRR is currently looking for alternate (smaller) diesel trains that would be more cost-effective to operate and maintain, as compared with both the LIRR’s existing diesel fleet and with electric trains.”

The LIRR does not have specific timeline or start date for either purchasing the alternate diesel fleet and/or initiating expanded Scoot service for East of Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The scoot train could be much smaller to than the standard 10 or 12 car consist,” Mr. Arena said, “perhaps just one, two cars or three coach cars, depending on demand.”

[email protected]

10/09/12 4:28pm
10/09/2012 4:28 PM

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) filed a bill on Tuesday urging the county to go to court to seek a refund of about $12 million in MTA payroll taxes the county paid to the state over the past four years.

A similar resolution was submitted in Brookhaven Town by Councilman Dan Panico, who said that town is seeking a refund of about $917,000 from the MTA.

Mr. Romaine is also running for Brookhaven Town supervisor in November.

Read more about the bill in Thursday’s paper.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico discuss plans for Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven to receive refunds from the former MTA payroll tax.

08/31/12 2:04pm
08/31/2012 2:04 PM


Hometown Taxi owner Bryan DaPalma of Southampton and Supervisor Sean Walter talked about relocating part of his taxi business to the Riverhead train station.

Media members outnumbered prospective tenants at Friday’s tour of the 102-year-old Riverhead train station, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying to lease out.

The MTA has issued a request for proposals from companies who might want to lease space at the station, which hasn’t been used as a railroad station since 1972. The station has been vacant for most of the time since then.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Sept. 28.

The MTA gave a tour of the building at noon, and only two prospective renters showed, though representatives from three media outlets did, along with some Riverhead Town officials, including town historian Georgette Case.

One company that is definitely interested is Southampton-based Hometown Taxi, which runs cars throughout the East End.

Owner Bryan Deparma said he’d like to use the building to dispatch cabs. The company currently runs cars in Riverhead but has to monitor them from an office in either Southold or Southampton, he said. It also has contracts for medical transport to local hospitals, and a contract Maureen’s Haven to transport homeless to local shelters in the winter, he said.

“This is perfect for what we want to do,” he said of the train station, though he said the building might be a bit big for his needs.

“I don’t need a big space,” he said. “If I just could use the ticket counter” and someone else could occupy the rest of the station, “that would work”, he said.

The only other prospective tenant to take the tour was Ike Israel of Riverhead-based Richmond Realty Corp., who said the company just wanted to see what was available.

Anthony Coates of Riverhead, an adviser to the town supervisor, did not take Friday’s tour, but told the News-Review in an interview that he and his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, who is a business student at Stony Brook University, plan to submit a proposal to rent the train station as a restaurant/cafe type establishment.

Mr. Coates, who has been involved in the restaurant business in the past, said that with the recent closure of Riverhead establishments like East Enders and Off Main,  “there’s no place to capture a quick doughnut or muffin in town.”

John Coyne of the MTA’s real estate department, who gave the tour, said the public authority has contacted some businesses, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, about the possibility of leasing space in the Riverhead station, as well as in other MTA train stations.

The MTA doesn’t usually receive proposals to rent its stations until its close to the deadline for submissions, he said, adding that depending on what the response is, the MTA may push the deadline back.

A decision on whether to rent the entire site to one company or subdivide it among more than one company also will depend on the response, he said.

Mr. Coyne said he’s grateful Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was able to get publicity for the tour and the lease opportunity by reaching out to the local media.

The MTA undertook about $1 million in renovations to the Railroad Avenue station and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization. But the town has had little success in finding a tenant since then, even when it offered the building rent-free.

Mr. Walter said the conditions the MTA had put on the lease in the past made it difficult to find a tenant.

The MTA taking the lead in looking for tenants is a new strategy, he said.

“I was getting ready to write a letter to the MTA telling them we were condemning the building because of the condition it was in,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. But before he got the chance to send the letter, Police Chief David Hegermiller suggested he talk to Long Island Rail Road president Helena Williams, whom the chief knows.

Mr. Walter said he called Ms. Williams earlier this year and she told him she would issue the RFP for the train station. Of the town’s inability to get anywhere with the MTA in the past, she told him he wasn’t talking to the right people, the supervisor said.

[email protected]

08/30/12 7:00pm
08/30/2012 7:00 PM

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead station hasn’t been used as a train station since 1972.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has issued a request for proposals in hopes that a private company would lease the long-vacant Riverhead train station on Railroad Street.

l Irr River Head Station Building r Fp

The RFP was issued in early April and calls for proposals to be returned by Friday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. A site visit for prospective renters is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31, at noon.

The MTA is looking for to lease out the 102-year-old, 1,500-square-foot building for 10 years.

Prohibited uses for the site include vending machines, the sale of firearms, tattoo parlors, massage parlors or any other use that might be known as an “adult use,” the RFP reads.

The tenant would be required to make the bathroom in the facility available to LIRR customers during morning and afternoon peak hours, and the tenant would be prohibited from storing flammable materials on the site.

The tenant would also be required to pay for utilities at the site. The station hasn’t been used as a train station since 1972.

The MTA, which owns the Long Island Railroad, put about $1 million in renovations into the Railroad Avenue station and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization.

But the station has been vacant for almost all of that time period, as the town has been unable to even give it away rent free.

The current RFP makes no mention of a prohibition on alcohol, although that could be defined as a “adult use,” and it makes no requirement that the tenant be a non-profit.

[email protected]

Read more in the Sept. 6 edition of the News-Review newspaper.

08/23/12 12:00pm
08/23/2012 12:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax is unconstitutional.

Local lawmakers are celebrating this morning following a state Supreme Court decision Wednesday calling the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax unconstitutional.

Many legislators have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Approved in 2009, the tax imposed a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.

In June 2011, the state Senate, which has a narrow Republican majority, passed a bill to repeal the MTA payroll tax, but the legislation didn’t pass in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who sponsored a bill to have Suffolk join Nassau County’s lawsuit, described the recent decision as “wonderful.”

“This is an illegal tax never that should never have been imposed,” Mr. Romaine said Thursday morning on his way to Mineola for a press conference about the court’s ruling.

Mr. Romaine called the MTA payroll tax “wrong, morally and legally” because East End service was cut after the tax was imposed. Since that time, Mr. Romaine said the tax has cost Suffolk County $10 million and $150 million for small businesses in the county

Mr. Romaine said although he’s pleased with the court’s recent decision, he believes the fight isn’t over because the next step would be local municipalities and business owners getting reimbursed from paying the tax over the past few years.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement the MTA will “vigorously appeal” the decision.

“We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed,” he said.

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said Thursday he’s “thrilled” about the decision and believes it will be upheld upon appeal.

“Myself and my colleagues have been fighting this egregious tax and I think [the decision] is certainly a step toward its complete removal,” Mr. Losquadro said.

[email protected]

06/05/12 9:01am
06/05/2012 9:01 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle voted in favor Monday of exempting libraries from the MTA payroll tax.

The state Senate passed legislation Monday to exempt libraries from the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax.

Approved in 2009, the tax currently imposes a .21 percent levy on payroll for employers, including schools and governments in Suffolk County with payrolls above $1.25 million.

The new legislation aims to help libraries meet the needs of their communities since library usage has increased by 11 percent since 2007 while state funding for libraries has declined by 23 percent, according to the bill.

Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a press release that he supported the legislation sponsored by fellow Long Island Republican Jack Martins.

“Repealing the tax would save libraries in the downstate MTA region $1.3 million annually,” Mr. LaValle said.

Now that the bill has passed in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow majority, it has been introduced in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

In January, the Senate passed a bill co-sponsored by Mr. LaValle to repeal the MTA payroll tax for certain small businesses, public and private schools and other entities with payrolls under $1.25 million.

[email protected]

07/19/11 5:32am
07/19/2011 5:32 AM

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | LIRR employee Bryan Jecklin pours a glass of Nautique Esprit de Blanc for part-time Southold resident Ed Meredith

Long Island Rail Road passengers boarding the Greenport-bound train from the Ronkonkoma station Friday nights now see a menu on their seat offering refreshments for purchase during the long ride out east.

But other than soda and water, options are limited to two choices — red or white.

The 5:21 p.m. eastbound train from Ronkonkoma, now dubbed the “North Fork Wine Train,” will feature a white and a red wine from six different North Fork wineries each week. The idea is to encourage travelers to use the train and to familiarize North Fork visitors with the region’s wineries.

“This is a kind of pilot project,” said Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate. “But it does seem to be quite popular.” The promotion was made possible through a collaboration between the MTA, the wine council and the North Fork Promotion Council.

This week’s selection on the wine train were Peconic Bay Winery’s Nautique Esprit de Rouge and Nautique Esprit de Blanc.

Other participating wineries include Jason’s Vineyard, Duck Walk, Macari, Pindar and Laurel Lake.

The wine train began Memorial Day weekend and will run until Labor Day. The wine is $5 per glass.

A steady stream of passengers lined up at the bar cart last Friday and more than two-thirds of the wine was gone before the train reached Riverhead. The cart was reportedly out of vino before stopping at Riverhead the Friday before the July 4 weekend. That train carried about 300 passengers, LIRR officials said.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Ed Meredith, a part-time Southold resident who takes the train nearly every weekend. “Now I don’t have to buy beer at Penn Station and keep it cold.” He noted that driving after his trip would not be a problem as his daughter planned to pick him up at the station.

Part-time North Fork resident and LIRR rider Dorothy Rooney enjoyed a glass of wine Friday night, though she said she didn’t need another incentive to take public transportation.

“It’s so much more relaxing on the train,” she said. “I love it.”

For some, it was their first-ever encounter with Long Island wine.

While waiting on line for a glass, Patrick Mahon of Brooklyn said he was so unfamiliar with the area he did not know the name of the place where he and his wife were staying that weekend. But he did say he might come back to visit a vineyard and to taste some more North Fork wine.

“It’s an opportunity to promote our local wineries,” said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who came up with the idea and sought its implementation. “I have a lot of other ideas I’d like to push in trying to promote the wine industry.”

Mr. Romaine called the promotion “a right step” for the MTA, after the transit authority proposed cutting virtually all LIRR service east of Ronkonkoma, save for summer weekend trains, as a cost-saving measure last year.

Mr. Romaine said he would eventually like to see Saturday and Sunday wine trains working in connection with tour buses to shuttle visitors to the vineyards and local bed and breakfasts.

The LIRR does offer some tour packages, though not for overnight trips and only in the summer.

The wineries do not make much money off the promotion, it’s main benefits come from the advertising, Mr. Bate said. The vineyards sold the cases of wine to the MTA at a discounted rate and the transit authority keeps the proceeds. An LIRR employee mans the cart and pours the wine into small plastic cups for customers.

Though the MTA has reportedly broken even so far with wine sales, officials say it is too early to tell if the promotion has increased ridership.

“The LIRR’s North Fork Wine Train has been well-received by customers. They have been very enthusiastic and positive with their comments,” said MTA spokesman Sal Arena. “It’s too early to make a fair comparison to ridership on the same train last summer without the wine available. But the data is coming in and we will have that answer later in the summer.”

The promotion sits especially well with East End public transportation advocates, who have been calling on the MTA to explore ways to make public transportation more attractive for years.

“It’s like the first time the LIRR has done something for the North Fork,” said Jim Ellwood, a Riverhead resident who sits on the Five Town Rural Transit Board. “I’m just happy they’re offering these amenities.”

[email protected]

06/06/11 9:52am
06/06/2011 9:52 AM


Local state senators introduced a bill in the Senate Monday that, if approved, would repeal the Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax for all employers in counties outside New York City.

Approved in 2009, the tax imposes a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.
Many local lawmakers have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Bill cosponsor state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), who represents the North Fork and voted against the original legislation, called the payroll tax “ill conceived and onerous.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the MTA, without increasing fares or cutting services, can balance its books after this legislation is implemented,” state Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic), one sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

Mr. Zeldin gained traction in his bid to oust former senator Brian Foley by campaigning on Mr. Foley’s vote to support the MTA tax.

As ways of relieving the transit authority’s budget woes, the freshman senator, who took office in January, cited real estate transfer taxes, eliminating overtime abuse in the MTA and investigating having a private agency run the MTA.

Under the proposed legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less, as well as schools, would not have to pay the tax as of January 1, 2012.

The payroll tax would be reduced to .23 percent for all other employers in the seven counties outside New York City, including Suffolk, as of that date. It would be further reduced to .12 percent as of January 2013 and repealed as of January 2014.

As of January 2014, the tax would remain at .21 percent for all businesses within the five boroughs.

Marcus Povenilli, Mr. Zeldin’s deputy chief of staff, said the bill was introduced Monday but it is not known when senators will vote on it. He added that state Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Mamaroneck) will introduce the same bill in the Assembly.
“We hope that it moves swiftly through the system,” he said.

But Desmond Ryan, a New York State political analyst and the executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said it might be hard for the bill to gain momentum in the Assembly, which would also need to approve the repeal.

“It will probably gain some traction in the Senate, but I’m not sure where the Assembly stands on the bill,” he said. “The Assembly is predominately made up by people who are city-centric.”

An MTA spokesperson defended the tax Monday, calling it vital support for the transit authority.

“The payroll mobility tax, passed by the Legislature in 2009, provides a vital $1.4 billion in annual support for public transportation across the downstate region — 15 times more money than was saved by last year’s painful service reductions,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan in a statement. “The MTA’s focus is on using this revenue as efficiently as possible, which we are achieving by identifying savings projected to reach $1 billion annually by 2014.”

Mr. Donovan indicated that higher fares could be coming down the line.

“Because we have already taken these steps, finding additional savings from means other than fare increases or service reductions would be very painful,” he said. “As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.”

The repeal of the MTA payroll tax would be welcome news to William Schoolman, owner of the Bohemia-based Classic Coach company, which directly competes with the MTA yet pays more than $15,000 to the agency due to the tax. In 2009, Mr. Schoolman filed a lawsuit against the transit authority claiming the payroll tax is unconstitutional, and he has also started the website www.mtataxpayerabuse.com.

“This year [the company’s payroll tax] will be more than last,” he said. “We certainly hope [the local senators] are successful in their efforts.”

[email protected]