Last Call on Commuter Trains?


Egged on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is thinking about banning alcohol from commuter trains on the Metro-North and Long Island railroads. "Times have changed and drunk driving is a major concern," says MTA board member Mitch Pally. "People get off the railroad and they get into cars," says  Deena Cohen, president of MADD's Long Island chapter. "Somebody is going to get killed."

People also get off airplanes and get into cars, attend sporting events and get into cars, go to rock concerts and get into cars, eat at restaurants and get into cars, and leave bars and get into cars. As a result, somebody is going to get killed. Does that mean alcohol should be banned from all of these places as well? The relevant question, it seems to me, is whether people can drink on trains and planes, at ball games and concerts, and in bars and restaurants without driving home dangerously intoxicated. Plainly, they can, either by watching how much they drink or by hitching a ride with someone else. Surely it is possible to have a beer during an hour-long commute without endangering other people, even if you do drive home once you reach your destination. So Pally and Cohen's argument amounts to saying that no one should be allowed to drink on commuter trains because some people will abuse the privilege.

It's not hard to predict the unintended consequences of an alcohol ban. Some commuters will decide to drink before boardng the train and may end up consuming more than they otherwise would to make sure they have a nice buzz on the ride home, the upshot being that they are more intoxicated when they arrive than they used to be. Others may decide to drink in the city and drive home instead of taking the train. Somebody is going to get killed.

Notice, too, the evidence used to demonstrate the need for alcohol-free trains:

Pally's proposal follows a recent spate of accidents in which commuters have fallen through the gaps between the platforms and trains. In the most notorious case, a Minnesota teen was killed in August when she fell through a gap on the Long Island Rail Road on her way to a concert. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.23 percent nearly three times the legal driving limit.

I thought we were worried about intoxicated drivers. And what the hell does a drunk teenager have to do with alcohol sales to adults in train stations? 

Since my commute consists of walking down the hall from my bedroom to my office, I frankly don't care all that much about alcohol on trains. But I do fly from time to time, and I can see where this is heading. One day the Mitch Pallys and Deena Cohens of the world will try to take my airborne, five-dollar gin and tonic away from me on the grounds that I might not be perfectly sober when I land at my destination and that I might be driving home instead of taking a cab. Somebody is going to get killed.  

NEXT: Plugging Leaks With Subpoenas

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Goddamn nags.

  2. Regardless if anyone drives home or not, I don’t see why our children need to see some slobbering, staggering drunk on the train. People can wait until they get home to poison themselves with liquor and cigarettes.

  3. I hate neoprohibitionists.

    And though I’m not reading what you’re saying Dan T, go ahead and shut the hell up already.

  4. I don’t see why we need to be nagged by Dan T. on the internet. I can wait until I go home to be nagged by my wife.

  5. Over at Grylliade, Semiapies has a free Handy Dandy Dan T. filter.

  6. Or some people — like me — consume a $4.50 oil can of Fosters on the train and then ride their bike home while buzzed. But at least I’m not burning fossil fuels or contributing to the obesity epidemic, right?

    I feel like I’m reverting back into a teenager: everything I do is becoming illegal all over again. I’ve spent a lifetime committing petty crimes.

  7. So, what about the Dashing Dan who gets dropped off at the station in the a.m. by his Dear Wife, who then takes the family car to her job or on her daily errands? Because some other idiot who drives to the station, parks his beater* and catches the 7:40 to Penn Station can’t remember to keep it under 0.08%, he has to be denied a cocktail? Jerks.


    *When I was a kid on Lawn Island, a second family car in poor shape was often called a “station car.” You wouldn’t trust one of those on a long trip, but Dads used them to catch the morning train into the City.

    P.S.: Dan T. is NOT Dashing!

  8. Memo:

    To: Dan T

    From: Planet Earth

    It has come to our attention that you are not aware that adults as well as children live on planet fucking Earth. However unfortunate this may be, we simply do not have the technology at this time, to send all children to mars to be raised until the age of 18 has been reached. At which time they will be shipped back to planet Earth to live the horribly disgusting lives that sentient and free willed adults live that are so in-harmoniously vile and repulsive, that will ultimately lead to the extrication of all future generations of children. To planet Mars, of course. Thank you for your concern, we will take it from here.

  9. See that’s just culture shock to those of is in Californicate. What passes for mass transit out here would never permit anyone to drink a beer, martooni, or anything else vaguely alcoholic.

    Then again, I haven’t checked on the Beach Train lately.


    Rule # 1: Absolutely no alcoholic beverages

  10. That AP story seems to be a shorter version of this one from Newsday

    Belly up to the bar carts

    Where it’s sold

    4 to 8 p.m. weekdays: Up to 12 bar carts on platforms at Penn Station, stations at Flatbush Avenue and Jamaica.

    Bar carts on 6:33 p.m. from Penn to Babylon train and 7:22 p.m. from Penn to Huntington.

    Summers, two bar carts on the platform during rush hours at Hunterspoint Avenue in Long Island City. On summer Fridays, at-seat beverage service available on two reserved cars on 4:06 p.m. from Hunterspoint to Montauk.

    What it costs

    Beer: $2.50 imported, $2 domestic

    Wine: $3 for 6 ounces

    Mixed drinks: $4 or $4.25, single-serving bottles


    A damn sight cheaper than most Manhattan bars, I’d say. 🙂


  11. If someone knows, please share:

    How many accidents (lethal and otherwise) are caused by drunk drivers every year vs. sober drivers? How about the number of shit-for-brains non-driving manuvers (like stepping in front of a train, or being hit crossing the street)?

  12. In related news, MADD Canada forced to suspend fundraising when faced with allegations that it spends up to 80% of its donations to pay telemarketers.

  13. You’re not getting it… this is coming from the GUT… not from the stupid places like the BRAIN. Things that come from the GUT are more important than triffle matters such as REASON and FACTS. Folks at MADD don’t care too much about the BRAIN because it gets in the way of their ultimate crusade against alcohol, which goes right to the GUT before eventually making its way to the brain.

  14. WSD, last time I looked into it, which has been a while, about half of all vehicle deaths were attributed to drunk driving. No source cite as this is from memory.

  15. For 2003 the total alcohol related deaths in automobiles was 17k approximately 40% of total auto deaths. Thats from NTSHA

  16. Does that mean alcohol should be banned from all of these places as well?

    You’re catching on.

    The good news is, that after they institute the New Prohibition, it will inevitably fail, and when they go back to end the War on Alcohol, maybe they’ll think to end the War on Drugs as well.

  17. For 2003 the total alcohol related deaths in automobiles was 17k approximately 40% of total auto deaths. Thats from NTSHA

    I don’t know how trustworthy a statistic that is, though. Does that only cover “accidents clearly caused by the driver being drunk rather than sober,” or is it “any accident wherein either driver had any amount of alcohol in his system?”

  18. Well, everyone has to die someday. I hope the Mitch Pallys and Deena Cohens of the world do it sooner than later.

    Collective punishment should be a crime.

  19. The Dan T. at 5:18pm isn’t me.

    But I sure do love cocks! Tee hee!

  20. Jen, I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. There were 14k deaths where at least one driver was legally drunk. The other 3k were passengers in the cars that were killed by drunks.

  21. I don’t know how trustworthy a statistic that is, though. Does that only cover “accidents clearly caused by the driver being drunk rather than sober,” or is it “any accident wherein either driver had any amount of alcohol in his system?”

    Jennifer beat me to it. I’d also ask how many of these fatalities are single-car accidents, which the prohibitionists would say are fortunate instances. Considering that my local newspaper reading tells me that far more DUI fatalities are drunk drivers killing themselves on barren stretches of road at 3 am, I can’t put much faith in those statistics.

  22. See that’s just culture shock to those of is in Californicate. What passes for mass transit out here would never permit anyone to drink a beer, martooni, or anything else vaguely alcoholic.

    Caltrain (the rail line between San Francisco and San Jose) allows passengers to drink alcohol on its trains.

  23. I can’t wait until MADD decides to ban sober drivers. They’re responsible for 2/3 of the fatal accidents in the US.

  24. I don’t drink… but this nannying is getting way out of hand. MADDness, I say.

  25. Mike, thanks. There ya go. The exception to the rule. 🙂

    I bet the Napa Wine Train let’s you drink as well.

    We took the drinking car (with the kids) on the Grand Canyon Train. It was really great to sit back next to any open window on that gorgeous afternoon and sip Cabernet. The Bar Car was uncrowded, the drinks were decent, the kids made friends, plus they served coffee and pastry on the way out to the Grand Canyon earlier that morning.

  26. This proves that whoever remains in MADD is using the driving as a smokescreen for being against alcohol, period. After all, the train is soberly (heh) viewed as an alternative to driving, so you’d think they’d want to encourage it.

  27. Let me be the first to brag about mass transit in Chicagoland.

    On our Metra trains, we have “Bar Cars”.

    One of the vestibules in one of the cars has a cooler installed to keep the beer and wine cold.

    Also, you can drink on any Metra train, regardless if it has a Bar Car or not.

    I usually have a flask full of Knob Creek (full at the start of my journey home).

    And for any nags and scolds worried that I my kill one of the precious children in the western suburbs, fear not, Mrs. Lurker picks me up at the train station and drives me home.

  28. Mr Lurker, we can’t (legally) drink on the beach either.

  29. Dan T. is a satire-comment plug-in device. Do not worry.

    Jesus fucking christ, can these fucking people leave ANYTHING alone? Having a cocktail or beer or glass of wine on a plane or train is one of the final public pleasures allowed in this godforsaken country where we have to live our entire leisure lives behind private walls, if we can afford such walls, and only until the SWAT teams show up to kill everybody at a dinner party and force our toddlers to piss at gunpoint.

  30. I got plastered on a train ride from Chicago to New York a few years ago and played cards with strangers all night. I wonder if that’s even possible any more.

    Anyway, I bet the MTA just wants to avoid lawsuits. You just know they’ve been sued by the wives of dead drunk drivers one time too many.

  31. Well its late in this flamewar, but I wanted to add my .02.

    In New Mexico these people have mandated a near zero tolerance law for drinking and driving. So if you have anything more than a SINGLE glass of wine — with dinner — you are legally drunk.

    To inforce this rediculous law, the police state has created does roadblocks, random pull-over & search, etc. They arrested 40,000 “drunks” one long-weekend in a state of 1.8 million people. Contemplate that. So any cop pulling anyone over after 5pm has a very high percent change of making a DWI arrest — a felony.

    So, what effect has this had on the overall drinking and driving problem? Its worse.

    “Why? We made these laws they are supposed to help?” You see, there is something about incentives here they don’t understand. If I’m legally drunk after 1.5 beers, (when I’m still sober, and competent to operate any machinery) then where is the incentive to NOT order a THIRD. OR FOURTH. OR FIFTH. OR TENTH. The not-at-all dangerous person who had a second glass of chianti with their fava beans gets just as arrested at the checkpoint as the slobbering drunk. They both wind up in jail, need to put a brethalyzer on their ignition key, etc, etc.

    So what they’ve done is ruin the lives of many, many people who aren’t at all dangerous to the “children” they are trying to protect while simultaneously failing to get at people who are actually dangerous.

    For goodness sake, I’m not saying we can’t arrest drunks behind the wheel. I’m saying if the person is blowing .10 — lock them up. If they are .025 pick some less felonious approach to taxation.

    But this commuter train discussion. Really, first it was the homosexuals, and I didn’t mind because I wasn’t homosexual … then it was the Jews …

  32. I take the metro north trains and have also taken the LIRR on occasion. While the LIRR is filled with 6-pack draining cavemen, the metro north is a sophisticated retreat of high-end commuters sipping their one station purchased beverage or, in the case of CT bound folks, enjoying the bar car. But in no case should this be banned. Imagine if you will a series of metal tubes filled with irate lawyers, ad men, and financiers stone-cold sober at 7:30 PM (that’s when we go home you Chicagoland Metra-riding central-time 7PM Prime TV weaklings) on a Wednesday night, mobile phones and blackberries buzzing and ringing. Someone will be killed.

  33. I have gotten drunk on planes and enjoyed it very much.

    I also had a flight where the couple in the row in front of me trew a vodka drink on me — she was trying to hit her partner, whom she was arguing with loudly, and missed. Since we were in the back of the plane, they made me sit back there with those people, while they cleared out the rows in front of us (we were in the back of the plane). They probably would have moved me if I had spoken up, but I was too tired and frustrated and they also had their hands full with the drunken arguing couple. I think they assumed that I was with the couple and had boarded the plane drunk. It did not help that I was covered in vodka tonic backwash.

    I can kind of see both sides of this common carrier issue (or at least what should be a common carrier issue) — CathyYoungStyle.

  34. Obviously, some one is going to drink in a private residence and get out and drive a car, so the only solution is to ban all alcoholic beverages! …. Oh? Wait, we did that already, and the cure was worse than the afliction

    This finger of the grasping hand of the War on Everything Self Determined fits nicely with the MADD efforts to get breathalizer ignition locks installed in DUI convictees (first one small step, the bigger step) cars.

  35. When I was a kid, all I heard was “When you’re older” Now that I’m 57, all I hear is “For the children”. My question is: When was is my fucking turn, and why wasn’t I memoed?

  36. my airborne, five-dollar gin and tonic

    I had one of those recently on Jet Blue (actually a Scotch Rocks) and considering that the amount of actual Scotch in the bottle could barely fill a thimble, I don’t think there’s a domestic flight long enough to get tanked before disembarking.

  37. The sweet nectar of the oil can was the only thing that kept me sane after a 16 hour day when I was a NYC commuter. Damn them to hell for even suggesting such a thing!

  38. I fully support drinking alcohol on the trains, as long as they don’t eat french fries.

  39. ed,

    Try sitting at the front of the bus. They’ll refill you as long as you can stay quiet and seated.


    What carrier was this? All of them that I know of have policies against allowing visibly intoxicated people to board.

  40. Lurker Kurt,

    Sadly, the bar cars are only on routes that don’t go through dry suburbs. When I used to take the Metra from Union station to my home via the Union Pacific-West line, there was no bar car. I was told that it’s because it goes through dry suburbs and therefore alcohol could not be served on those lines.

    My co-workers used to be on a line that had the bar cars though…they loved it. And I was always resentful!! 🙂

  41. There are dry counties in Illinois?!

  42. Bgist:

    You post is confusing.

    NM sets legal BAC at the same level as all other states. The Zero Tolerance policy you are talking about seems only to apply to minors… and given a drinking age law, doesn’t seem to apply to people ordering drinks in a bar.

    Am I missing something?

    “In New Mexico, it is illegal for someone who is 21 or older to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Drivers under the age of 21 cannot drive with a BAC of 0.02% or higher. Anyone who breaks this law can be convicted of a DWI.”

  43. Dealin’ card games with the old men in the club car.
    Penny a point ain’t no one keepin’ score.
    Oh Won’t you pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
    Feel the wheels rumblin’ ‘neath the floor.

  44. Rhywun,

    I know of at least one county in Illinois that is dry. I can’t remember its name but I-74 runs through it and it is between Champaign and Bloomington.

    As for ChicagoTom, my guess is the Union Pacific West line runs through the town of Wheaton which prides itself on being dry.

  45. “Her blood-alcohol level was 0.23 percent nearly three times the legal driving limit.”

    Well isn’t this because we don’t want drunks driving?

    Hey MADD , if you have a straw, you can’t suck and blow at the same time.

    Its obvious that she did not get that drunk on the train and that you want drunks taking the train and not driving.

  46. New Jersey Trainset had well-patronized bar cars on its Hoboken-Port Jervis commuter runs years ago. After the trains went dry, thirsting riders no doubt made Lackawanna Liquors (in the train station as I recall) a very profitable business.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.