More than 300 buses, parking lots near subway stations and ferries will be put into play if a strike stops the Long Island Rail Road, the biggest U.S. commuter-rail system.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York state agency that runs the line, is pressing commuters to carpool and work from home if LIRR employees walk out July 20, spokesman Adam Lisberg said on a conference call with reporters today. Even with the contingency plan, the commute would remain difficult if there’s a halt on the railroad, which carries 300,000 riders daily, Lisberg said.
“We don’t want to suggest this will be easy,” Lisberg said. “That’s why we’re undergoing an aggressive campaign with businesses to allow employees to telecommute.”
The railroad’s 5,400 workers and the agency have been locked in a dispute since their contract expired in 2010. President Barack Obama has appointed two mediation boards, which both proposed raising pay 17 percent over six years. When the MTA rejected the second proposal in May, it started a 60-day period in which the unions can’t strike. That ends July 20.
Labor leaders yesterday presented a counteroffer to one MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast proposed in June. This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo sent Prendergast to Washington to meet with the state’s congressional delegation.
Without a deal, the LIRR workers could strike for the first time since 1994, when the governor’s father, Mario Cuomo, ran the state. That strike lasted two days.
Prendergast said on the conference call that he wants to avoid a repeat.
“All parties are committed to working at the collective bargaining table to avoid this,” he said.
If there is a strike, the buses would be able carry 15,000 passengers to and from the city without a charge. There also would be 4,000 free parking spots near Citi Field and 3,000 near Aqueduct Racetrack, both close to subway stations in Queens. The minimum passenger limit on the Long Island Expressway’s high-occupancy lane would be raised to three from two to encourage carpooling.
A ferry from Glen Cove to East 34th Street in Manhattan, would be free and could carry about 1,000 riders during morning and evening commutes.
Existing bus lines likely would be swamped with passengers. The Nassau Inter-County Express gives about 100,000 rides on 48 routes on weekdays. It may make extra vehicles available to take commuters to subway stations.
“There isn’t a lot of surplus,” Andy Kraus, a spokesman, said in a phone interview. “There could be significant crowding and much slower service.”
Suffolk Transportation Service Inc. said it also anticipates disruptions. It has a contract to supply about 100 buses to the Long Island Rail Road in Deer Park and Ronkonkoma. Unionized drivers won’t cross a picket line, according to Executive Vice President Tom McAteer.
7Bus, a private operator, said on its website that it would offer a discount during the strike and move up commuter departure times.
Passengers said they’ll make do if the trains stop.
The Long Island Rail Road is “my primary means to get in and out of here,” Kenneth Burns, a Long Island consultant, said in an interview at New York Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan today. “I’ve been on the buses before when we’ve had accidents and stuff like that or when they’re working on the tracks. It’s not that big of a deal.”