With Amtrak’s Penn Station repairs to begin Monday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota and Interim Director Ronnie Hakim are asking commuters to stick with mass transit instead of taking a car, but to consider some alternatives being offered by the agency.
“We like to think of it as an abundance of choice for all of our riders,” Lhota said.
But the tens of thousands of commuters who will be affected by Amtrak’s work might not see it that way. They have already endured a litany of disruptions in recent months.
The track work project is expected to reduce rush-hour service by about 20% for Long Island Rail Road customers. Cancellations and holdups during the evening LIRR rush are at their highest level in 10 years.
MTA officials devised a plan to get commuters through the repairs. It includes ferry and coach-bus options and lengthened trains during peak hours, but it is anyone’s guess how the strategy will fare.
“Monday is a test, there’s no question,” Lhota said. “Tuesday is another test.”
“It will continue throughout that week,” he added.
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The second-time chairman, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to head the MTA last month while maintaining his regular job as a hospital executive, vowed that the transit agency will better communicate with riders about changes. He touted new timetables that have already been placed in stations.
The agency also unveiled a web page to track modifications when repairs begin July 10. Also, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has its own plan to increase rush-hour service between the Hoboken and 33rd Street stations and to cross-honor NJ Transit tickets at three busy PATH stations.
MTA honchos vowed to hold Amtrak accountable for its promise to finish the track repairs by September 1, 2017. It is not clear what leverage they have, although Cuomo, who coined the term “summer of hell” when Amtrak announced the need for emergency work, has mused about paying the federally funded rail road less rent for the MTA’s use of Penn Station.
Lhota offered up an anecdote about commuting from Lindenhurst, stating he once used the same station every day and that changing his route would have been difficult. But he said if he were still taking the LIRR to Penn Station he would try something new if he had the options the agency is offering.
However, MTA executives are infamous for not using the transit system themselves. A review by the Daily News found two MTA higher-ups only swiped their free MetroCards twice in two years. The MTA refused to identify them.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to take the train,” Lhota said. “If you take the train now, you should take the train next week.”
“We have provided enough seats for a normal day,” he added.
The agency said it will also coordinate with police to enforce high-occupancy vehicle lane rules for the 200 buses traveling from pickup locations at Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Ferries from Hunters Point and Glen Cove to East 34th Street will also be offered free of charge to holders of monthly LIRR passes. And MTA officials agreed to offer affected LIRR passengers a 25% discount last month at the request of Cuomo, who controls the agency.
“We know it is going to be a tough couple of months,” Hakim said. “But it’s temporary.”