The Long Island Rail Road Thursday will begin mailing July monthly tickets to thousands of commuters, who have no guarantee that a possible union strike won't shut down the system in the middle of the month.
LIRR officials said earlier this week that it was already too late for some 31,000 Mail & Ride subscribers to opt out of buying their July tickets.
If a strike -- which could occur July 19 -- lasted several days and a commuter separately had a vacation planned, a monthly ticket may not be worth it. The ticket can cost more than $300.
"I don't know what to tell people. I just know that they should start to think about it,"said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, and a Mail & Ride customer. "The burden is on the rider to figure out whether there will or won't be a strike. That doesn't seem appropriate."
If a strike halted service, Mail & Ride customers would probably be reimbursed or credited, LIRR officials said Wednesday.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and eight unions representing more than 5,000 LIRR employees remain deadlocked in a four-year contract dispute. Without a deal in place, workers can legally walk off the job July 19.
Union leaders have proposed entering into a pact with the MTA to extend the strike deadline to September, but so far the authority has not agreed.
Anthony Simon, the unions' lead negotiator, said the unpredictability of the July commute is "one more reason" why the MTA should agree to push the strike deadline until after Labor Day. "It is the unions doing everything they can to not inconvenience our riders," Simon said. "It is time the MTA starts to do the same."
LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said Mail & Ride tickets will begin to be mailed out Thursday, and customers could receive them as early as Friday. Credit cards will be billed on July 3, and checks must be received by the LIRR by that date. "At this point, if a customer does not believe their monthly pass is worth it for July, they should return the ticket still sealed on the ticket carrier for a credit towards a future ticket," he said. "The sealed ticket would need to be received before the end of July."
Donovan added that customers returning sealed Mail & Ride passes would not be subject to any penalty fee.
"At this point in time, we're obviously very hopeful of reaching a settlement and not having a strike. So I really encourage people to do their normal thing," said new LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski, adding the agency would likely set up a special refund or credit plan if a strike knocked out train service.
Longtime LIRR commuter Tim Conway, 68, said he won't think twice about buying his July pass. "On July 1 I'll get one," Conway, of Mineola, said Wednesday while waiting for his train at Penn Station. "I don't think there will be a strike. It's not beneficial to anybody."