Lirr Strike Would Fill Qns. with Commuters

Contingency Plan Relies On Subway Lines

New York City faces a potential transportation crisis should Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) workers walk off the job when their contracts expire this Sunday, July 20.

Talks between the MTA and the various LIRR unions broke down on Monday, July 14, and union representatives indicated they were ready to strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning. As the Times Newsweekly went to press Wednesday afternoon, July 16, no break in the impasse appeared imminent.

If the LIRR’s more than 5,000 unionized workers are on the picket line come Monday morning, July 21, Queens and Brooklyn commuters will find themselves sharing in the commuter pain with tens of thousands from Nassau and Suffolk counties. The MTA announced a limited contingency plan in which shuttle buses would transport commuters to and from subway stops in Queens.

Should a strike take place, the MTA warned, it would be impossible to replicate the LIRR’s 300,000 trips made every weekday. In pamphlets and advertisements posted online and in publications, the MTA urged the public to consider working from home or carpooling-or, if they must commute to work, rely on existing buses and subways and allow additional travel time.

Nonetheless, arterial highways such as the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway could see surges in rush hour volume from those who choose to drive to and from work; other main arteries may also become congested with drivers seeking alternate routes.

According to published reports, the MTA is offering union workers a 17 percent pay increase phased in over seven years, but with the condition that workers contribute 2 percent of their pay toward health care costs. The various unions representing LIRR conductors, signalmen, track specialists and other employees provided counteroffers which the MTA rejected.

Despite the impasse, elected officials across the state warned both parties not to count on last-minute intervention, and urged the MTA and unions to broker a fair deal. The last LIRR strike took place in 1994.

In a statement last Wednesday, July 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “it is now clear that the only path to resolution is at the bargaining table between the MTA and the unions” and that “this dispute must be handled amicably.”

“The LIRR plays a unique role and is vital to Long Island’s economic and social activity,” Cuomo said. “A strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA.”

The MTA will offer “very limited, weekday, rush-hour peak direction only shuttle bus service starting within 24-48 hours of any declared strike,” it was noted. The buses would operate between parking lots in Nassau and Suffolk counties and subway hubs on the 7, A, M and R lines.

The bus network-which, in an MTA announcement last Friday, July 11, has the ability to carry 15,000 passengers-would operate toward New York City between 4 and 7 a.m. and toward Long Island between 3 and 7 p.m. weekdays.

These buses, however, “should be [the] last resort,” the MTA warned commuters, as only “a fraction of regular weekday rush hour customers can be accommodated on this extremely limited service.”

Bus lines emanating from the Ronkonkoma, Deer Park and Manhasset LIRR stations would connect commuters to and from the Mets-Willets Point station on the 7 line. Citi Field’s parking lot would become a park-and-ride during the strike; the MTA noted there are 4,000 available spots. (The Mets’ next home game is not until July 28.)

Another shuttle bus line would serve the Seaford, Bellmore and Freeport stations and Nassau Community College and bring riders to and from the Howard Beach-JFK Airport train station. Commuters choosing to drive in are advised to park-and-ride at nearby Aqueduct Racetrack/Resorts World New York-which has 3,000 available spots-and connect to the A train at Aqueduct-North Conduit Avenue.

Finally, a third shuttle bus line would connect passengers between the Hicksville LIRR station and the Woodhaven Boulevard stop on the M and R lines in Elmhurst.

For more information on the strike threat, visit www.mta.info/lirr and follow the Times Newsweekly on Twitter.