Murray, Town Board Members Call MTA’s Strategy to Cram Commuters From 32 LIRR Stations Into Three “Unworkable”

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and members of the Hempstead Town Board held a press briefing at the Bellmore Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station, lambasting a busing plan that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) intends to implement in the event of a strike by LIRR unions. The plan calls for “herding” commuters from over 30 LIRR stations along the Babylon branch (includes Far Rockaway, Long Beach and West Hempstead branches, which connect to Babylon branch) into 3 overcrowded stations in Bellmore, Seaford and Freeport. Commuters would be bused to subway locations in Queens from those stations. The town officials branded the plan “unworkable, ill-conceived and poorly planned.” Joining the Supervisor at a press briefing on the issue were Senior Councilman Anthony Santino, Councilwoman Angie Cullin, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, Councilman Gary Hudes, Councilman James Darcy and Councilman Ed Ambrosino, along with Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad and Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin.

“Herding commuters from over 30 local south shore train stations into 3 stations that are already filled to capacity for busing into the city is nonsensical,” stated Murray. “The MTA has to do better and come up with a real plan to transport commuters from Long Island to the city in an orderly manner if an LIRR strike occurs. What’s more, dumping the entire burden of all of the commuters along the Babylon line onto one town is not fair.  After all, three to four towns are served by the branch.”

Murray and other town officials also blanched at the MTA’s message to commuters, as reported in Newsday, calling on residents to “stay home” in the event of a strike.

“Try telling a cancer patient with an appointment for life-saving surgery in the city to stay home,” said Murray. “It’s just not reasonable,” added Santino, “And, it demonstrates a complete lack of concern for commuters.”

Murray expressed dismay at the MTA’s plan to utilize only three LIRR stations as “busing depots”, Bellmore, Seaford and Freeport, for almost 38,000 riders who use the Babylon branch and 3 connecting branches (Far Rockaway, West Hempstead, Long Beach) in the town on a daily basis. The Bellmore, Seaford and Freeport train stations have a grand total of approximately 3,775 parking spots. The officials indicated that attempting to cram the 38,000 commuters from the Babylon line, along with tens of thousands of riders from other train lines, would wreak havoc in downtown Freeport, Bellmore and Seaford. The town representatives said that local residential streets would be overrun, downtown businesses would be decimated with commuters snapping-up shopper parking spaces and traffic in these idyllic neighborhoods would grind to a halt. The MTA does also anticipate utilizing parking at Nassau Community College and the Hicksville LIRR station for shuttle bus service to accommodate Nassau commuters. 

“This is not an alternative transportation plan for commuters impacted by an LIRR strike,” said Hudes. “This is a recipe for disaster,” added Cullin.

On May 12, 2014, the MTA disseminated a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking bus companies/operators to present their responses to the request, detailing plans to furnish bus transportation for commuters between Nassau/Suffolk Counties and Queens locations. The request, issued in apparent anticipation of a LIRR strike, calls for the use of a total of 250 (or more) buses. The buses would furnish alternative transportation in the absence of an operating LIRR train system to over 261,000 daily commuters on Long Island. Town officials expressed reservations over the MTA’s readiness to deal with the prospective strike, pointing out that the daily ridership dwarfs the number of buses planned to move commuters between Long Island and Queens. In fact, the daily ridership equals over 1,000 commuters per bus based upon the MTA’s own numbers (261,000 riders/250 buses).

“The numbers just don’t add up,” stated Darcy. “The MTA is ‘railroading’ commuters into a plan that makes absolutely no sense,” added Goosby. “School’s out and buses should be readily available in numbers greater than 250 vehicles,” stated Ambrosino.

In addition to the three Hempstead Town train stations that will serve as bus depots in the event of a strike, the LIRR also plans to set up depots at the Hicksville LIRR station and at Nassau Community College.

Town officials wondered why there was no temporary bus depots planned for Babylon Town and Oyster Bay along the LIRR Babylon branch. The officials pointed out that a half of a dozen stations exist between Babylon Town and Hempstead Town (Babylon, Copiague, Amityville, Lindenhurst, Massapequa, and Massapequa Park).

“It makes little sense to ignore residents of other towns,” observed Murray. “What’s more, cramming all of the commuters from three towns into a few stations in Hempstead Town defies logic,” added Hudes.

In a letter to the MTA, Murray and her colleagues on the Town Board have asked the Authority to go back to the drawing board and craft a workable solution for commuters. The officials suggested establishing the temporary bus depots at each respective train station from which commuters depart each morning. In addition, the Town Board members suggested that bus depots specifically be set up at LIRR Babylon line branches in the other towns served by the line as well as Hempstead Town. The officials stated that the entire traffic and parking congestion burden should not be placed exclusively upon one township.

“Unfortunately, the MTA’s solution to a prospective strike scenario is to cram 10 pounds of ridership into the proverbial 5 pound bag,” said Murray. “It’s little wonder that many commuters have an unfavorable opinion of the MTA. It’s time for MTA management to develop an intelligent and workable transportation plan for commuters who would be affected in the event of a strike.”