The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced LIRR strike contingency plans Friday that it concedes won't come close to meeting the workday demand or preventing highway gridlock -- drawing concerns from advocates and commuters.
If there's a strike, 350 shuttle buses will be provided as a "last resort" and thousands of parking spaces will be made available for carpoolers, officials said.
The announcement came on a day when there were no new contract talks, with the MTA continuing to evaluate a counteroffer presented by LIRR unions Thursday.
The MTA said the buses, which require an LIRR ticket, would be capable of shuttling roughly 15,000 commuters at eight Long Island locations to Queens subway stops -- a fraction of the 180,000 daily commuters the LIRR serves.
There would also be seven carpool staging areas in Nassau and Suffolk counties, 3,000 parking spots at Aqueduct Racetrack in southern Queens, and 4,000 at Citi Field in Flushing, officials said.
A special free ferry service would operate from Glen Cove to the East 34th Street dock in Manhattan, capable of transporting up to 1,000 people in each direction, according to the plan. Each trip would take about 40 minutes.
But the success of the plan depends on many workers either telecommuting or simply taking time off, MTA officials said. Corporate leaders in New York City have committed to allowing about 18,000 people to telecommute, a number that's expected to grow, they said.
The LIRR Commuter Council issued a statement Friday saying it welcomed the release of the contingency plan, but cautioned: "Commuters in portions of Long Island including Huntington, Oyster Bay, areas along the Port Jefferson Branch and much of the Babylon Branch will have no direct access to shuttle buses."
MTA officials said they expected the majority of LIRR commuters would make plans on their own -- bunking with family or friends in the city or making their own carpool accommodations.
"Should this [strike] occur, we want you to understand the very limited travel alternatives available to you," the agency warned on its website. "Shuttle bus service should be your last resort."
Buses to the Howard Beach A train stop near Aqueduct would leave from Nassau County Community College in Garden City and the LIRR stations in Merrick, Freeport, Seaford and Bellmore, according to the plan.
Buses to Citi Field and the 7 subway line would leave from the Manhasset, Deer Park and Ronkonkoma LIRR stations, the plan said. Buses to the Woodhaven subway station and the M and R lines would leave from the Hicksville LIRR station.
The buses would leave the Island from 4 to 7 a.m. and return from 3 to 7 p.m. Riders would have to show an LIRR ticket to board a bus, and need a MetroCard to get on the subway.
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said one positive is that the way people work has changed "drastically" since the last LIRR strike in 1994.
"A lot more people today work four days a week. They do different things. They telecommute," he said. "It's a different landscape."
The MTA's carpool staging areas would be in state parks at Valley Stream, Hempstead, Bethpage, Belmont Lake, Sunken Meadow and Heckscher, and at Farmingdale State College.
During the strike, HOV lanes on the Long Island Expressway would require three people per vehicle, instead of two, officials said.
For telecommuters, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is offering 30,000 square feet of office space in Bethpage at Morrelly Homeland Security Center.
The space, which includes cubicles and lecture halls, would let about 200 workers access free Wi-Fi Internet service and avoid what Mangano called a potential "traffic nightmare."
Prendergast said his agency "was in the process" of scheduling another negotiating session, but six members of Congress from Queens and Long Island issued a joint statement saying they were "troubled" that new negotiations had not been scheduled.
"We strongly urge both parties to work through the weekend to reach a deal to benefit the diverse ridership of the Long Island Rail Road," the statement said.
Cassandra Haas, 26, of Port Jefferson, a jewelry designer who commutes from Lake Ronkonkoma to Manhattan, praised MTA officials for "doing the best they can" to plan ahead. "I guess it's all they can do at this point. . . . It's a huge inconvenience for a lot of people," said Haas, who is unable to telecommute.
Earlier Friday, Islip merchants who depend on commuter traffic urged the two sides to settle soon.
Stan Zubkow, who runs Dad's Deli near the Ronkonkoma station, estimates a strike could cost his business $600 a day. "Over half of our clients come from the train," he said.
Officials said the best way to keep informed of commuting options was to sign up for electronic MTA alerts, or visit mta.info and click on the yellow alert box in the middle of the page.With Darran Simon
and Ken Schachter