Hicksville Long Island Rail Road commuters taking shuttle buses on the first day of Oyster Bay Town's parking garage closure said the process was “smooth” and efficient.
For the next three months, town residents with parking permits can park in the lot of the shuttered Sears store — about a half-mile away — and take yellow school buses to the station while the garage is closed for repairs.
“This was pretty painless,” said Mindy Jackson, 35, of Plainview. “This might turn out to be an easier solution for me than driving around trying to get a spot. It removes stress knowing there are spots” the town made available at the Sears lot.
Officials have said the closure will last about three months while repairs are made to the 1,441-space garage. It has had repeated problems since it opened in 2011, including cracked ceilings, concrete falling on cars, leaking roofs and trails of rust on the walls.
“I got up 10 minutes early to make sure I could figure this out and so far, so good,” said Brian Kessler, 55, of Plainview, as he sat on a bus traveling to the station. “They’re doing a pretty good job."
Buses with capacities of 20 and 44 passengers left the Sears lot every few minutes. At 6 a.m., buses were departing with only one or two passengers, but an hour later, some were full.
Town spokesman Brian Nevin said about 1,200 vehicles were parked in the Sears lot Wednesday morning.
The closure may have diverted commuters to other stations.
Raymond Yuen, 47, an accountant, said he usually takes the train to Manhattan from the Syosset station, but the town lot there was full, so he came to Hicksville to catch a train to Long Island City.
“Normally at 7 o’clock, I find parking, but not today,” he said of the Syosset station's parking lot. He said the change in his commute would make him late to work by 20 to 30 minutes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy the next couple months,” Yuen said.
Although some commuters planned for the shuttles by waking up earlier than usual, Pamela Bortnick said she unconsciously drove to the old garage and arrived at the Sears lot too late to catch her usual train.
“I knew it was closing, but I totally forgot,” said Bortnick, 26, of Jericho. “I got to the garage and the gates were closed and I remembered. It’s so ingrained in me to go.”
At a parking lot owned by Jericho-based Commuter Parking Inc., the roughly 200 spots were filled.
“We would usually fill up around 8:30 a.m.,” said the lot manager, who declined to give his name as he sat in a parked car blocking its entrance while counting cash. “Today we filled up about 8:15 a.m.”
At the Duffy Garage parking lot, the daily rate had been $12, but a new price of $13 was spray-painted over a sign with the old rate. The attendant said it went up last week.
Waiting for shuttles delayed on traffic-clogged streets became a concern for some commuters.
“The cold weather is coming, and you’ll be waiting outside for the shuttle,” said Noel Fuentes, 39, of Hicksville.
Nevin said the town has "already arranged another bus for peak times tomorrow [Thursday]."
The town is paying Swedesboro, New Jersey-based Pullman SST Inc. $13.9 million to remove and replace the most severely damaged concrete slabs and strengthen others. Other work will include installing equipment to reduce excess moisture that has led to mildew and rusting in stairwells and replacing the drainage system to prevent puddles from forming.
Oyster Bay last year sued Freeport-based Peter Scalamandre & Sons Inc. and Mineola-based Sidney B. Bowne & Son LLP, alleging the companies failed to correct substandard work at the garage. The town is seeking unspecified damages. The firms have denied the charges in court documents.