After negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road’s eight unions collapsed on Monday, an LIRR strike that could strand more than 300,000 riders appeared imminent.
Though talks were expected to resume on Wednesday, the MTA announced contingency plans last Friday to provide limited transportation if a strike shuts down service beginning on Sunday. Buses, ferries and park-and-ride lots would all be mobilized to help commuters, the MTA said. It would deploy 350 school buses from seven depots on Long Island, including five in Nassau County, to subway stations in Queens.
Nassau depots, at which both the ride and parking would be free, would be located in Bellmore, Freeport, Hicksville, Manhasset and Seaford. Nassau Community College would be involved as well.
“The MTA expects the buses would be able to carry 15,000 customers — twice as many as the 7,000 people carried by buses during the 1994 LIRR labor outage,” MTA CEO and Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast said. “The buses would operate during rush hours only, and only in the peak direction of travel. They will run into New York City between 4 to 7 a.m. and return to Long Island between 3 to 7 p.m. Disabled customers will also be able to use Access-A-Ride vehicles available at those locations.”
The Bellmore, Freeport and Seaford buses would connect to the A subway station at Howard Beach. The Manhasset bus would take commuters to the 7 subway station at Mets-Willets Point/Citi Field.
Additionally, park-and-ride locations would be set up at Citi Field, with 4,000 parking spots, and Aqueduct Racetrack, which has 3,000. Citi Field connects to the 7 subway station, while Aqueduct connects to the A. Carpoolers would also be able to park at six state parks on Long Island.
For those who choose to drive to New York City, more than 100 public and private parking lots would be made available within five blocks of subway stations in Queens and Brooklyn.
“The MTA is working closely with the state and Nassau and Suffolk counties to ease traffic as much as possible,” Prendergast added. “The High Occupancy Vehicle lane on the Long Island Expressway will be expanded to require three people in a vehicle, not just two.”
In the event of a strike, all non-emergency construction on highways would be put on hold to keep roads clear.
In a statement, MTA officials said, “Realistically, there is no way to replace the Long Island Rail Road and the service it provides … Our top priority is reaching a fair and reasonable settlement to avoid a traffic nightmare that would paralyze Long Island.”
The City of Long Beach announced this week that it would provide additional bus service to accommodate commuters. Should a strike occur, the city would provide bus service to the Far Rockaway/Mott Avenue A-train subway station as an extension of both the West End and East Loop buses at no additional charge, City Council Vice President Fran Adelson said.
“Our City Council is calling on both sides to negotiate a compromise and work together in order to protect our residents and commuters,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said. “Our first priority is to take care of our residents who are commuters, so we are running bus service to the Rockaways and started communicating to our residents what our plans are, and we will continue to get the word out throughout the course of the week. Another concern is the potential impact on local businesses, because it will be harder for folks to get to Long Beach on the weekends, and so we will run some bus service on the weekends as well to make up for the lack of trains.”
In the meantime, residents across the barrier island who work in New York City are trying to figure out the best way to get to work if an agreement is not reached.
“The city will be a mess,” said Zach Grunther, a volunteer firefighter with the Point Lookout-Lido Beach Fire Department. “More congestion. I work in the city doing construction. I take the train five days a week. If the MTA goes on strike, it will make it much harder to get to work. I can’t afford to miss any days from work, and it kind of is impossible to drive into Queens every day to take the subway. Thousands of people will be driving to Queens, and there will be no parking.”
“At this point I have no idea how I would get to work,” said John Bendo, the president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association and an engineer who works in Manhattan and takes the LIRR daily. “The LIRR contingency plan I saw didn’t seem to have much in the way of accommodation for people on the Long Beach branch. I’m hoping I’ll be able to telecommute if a strike occurs.”
Bendo said that for Long Beach residents in particular, a strike would be a major hassle. “We only have three access points on and off the island, and two of the three are loaded with traffic lights,” he said. “Access from and to Long Beach by car at rush hour is difficult enough on a normal day. Another effect could be that people that may have taken the train here to Long Beach may choose to drive instead, exacerbating our already bad parking situation.”
Like Schnirman, Bendo said that a strike — coming less than a month after the city announced a promotional campaign with the LIRR to attract visitors to Long Beach — would have a deleterious impact on local businesses.
“Many of our businesses are seasonal in nature, or need to make the bulk of their money in the summer to carry them through the slower offseason,” he said. “Without the LIRR, all the people that take the train here to enjoy the beach on the weekend won’t be able to do so. That means lower beach attendance from train day-trippers, hence lower beach revenue. Additionally, that means fewer people will be here to go to our restaurants, bars and shops. The businesses in the center of town that cater to the LIRR crowds will be particularly impacted.”