Carpooling incentives and shuttle bus service from six of the LIRR's 122 stations highlight the MTA's Long Island Rail Road preliminary strike contingency plan, which elected officials and transit advocates say doesn't go nearly far enough to accommodate 300,000 displaced commuters.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, acknowledging the plan's shortfalls Thursday, said its main message to LIRR riders in a strike would be to stay home.
"It would be slow. It would be crowded. It would at least double your commute time," MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said. "This is a last resort. By no means should anybody portray this as a substitute for the Long Island Rail Road."
Under the plan detailed in an MTA email sent Wednesday to state officials, private buses would shuttle riders to select subway locations in New York City from pickup locations at LIRR stations in Ronkonkoma, Deer Park, Seaford, Bellmore, Freeport and Hicksville, as well as from Nassau Community College in Garden City.
In addition, park and ride locations would be set up at Citi Field and Aqueduct Racetrack, both in Queens. Carpoolers would be able to park at six state parks on Long Island and at Farmingdale State College.
Those lots can accommodate more than 14,000 cars, but an MTA official noted in the email that there would be "60,000 parking spaces available for carpooling at other LIRR stations" -- subject to local parking regulations.
In a statement, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Mangano "is not convinced the MTA's plan is sufficient" for LIRR riders -- more than half of whom live in Nassau. Mangano is scheduled to meet with MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast today to discuss the plan.
Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, similarly said: "There is a need to establish more pickup points and shuttle bus service for the residents of Suffolk County.
"We will continue to advocate for more transportation opportunities provided by the LIRR and look forward to a positive outcome, which will best serve Suffolk County commuters," Baird-Streeter said.
Lisberg said the MTA is still developing its plan, and that its top priority remains to avoid a strike by negotiating a new contract with eight LIRR unions.
Although the MTA will try to facilitate carpooling by expanding high-occupancy vehicle lanes on roads, Lisberg said the most important component of a strike contingency plan will be encouraging riders to avoid commuting altogether, whether that means working from home, staying in the city or using vacation time.
"If the unions choose to walk off the job, they will create a traffic nightmare on Long Island, and there's only so much anybody can do," said Lisberg, adding that the MTA will "strongly encourage" New York employers to allow workers to telecommute.
"That may be a practical answer, but it is not a reasonable answer," said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, adding that many commuters won't have a choice but to get to their jobs in the city. What's more, urging public transportation users to drive to work or stay home "is not in the long-range interest of the LIRR," he said.
Epstein said the MTA would benefit from gathering input from actual riders in putting together a strike plan. But, despite previously vowing to do so, the MTA has not reached out to the Commuter Council, Epstein said.
"We've thrown out ideas, but we have not been contacted or even considered," Epstein said.
In a statement, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the MTA "must do more to bolster its contingency plan."
"Long Island commuters simply cannot be left unable to get to work in the unfortunate event that an LIRR strike comes to pass," Schumer said.