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NJ Transit strike would impact Long Islanders, experts say

New Jersey Transit passengers sit in a car

New Jersey Transit passengers sit in a car as others board a train at Seacaucus Junction in Seacaucus, N.J. on March 4, 2016. Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

Long Islanders could feel the effects of a potential New Jersey Transit union strike beginning Sunday, as tens of thousands of people from across the Hudson River look for alternative ways to get in and out of New York City, experts said.

Although most Long Island commuters may actually benefit from fewer people on LIRR trains and in Penn Station, they could feel the impact elsewhere, including in the form of reduced parking, longer lines at MetroCard vending machines and larger crowds at some subway stations.

“It’s going to lead to tremendous backups,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for AAA New York, who predicted many of the displaced New Jersey commuters will drive into western Queens and Brooklyn, park their cars there, and complete their commutes into Manhattan by subway.

“God help us,” Sinclair said. “We hope it doesn’t happen.”

In the event of a strike, NJ Transit has developed a contingency plan that includes bolstering commuter bus service and cross-honoring NJ Transit fares on PATH trains and on ferries. But, all told, the plan would only accommodate about 38 percent of NJ Transit’s 160,000 daily commuters. About 900 of those commuters travel to and from Long Island, according to NJ Transit.

Among NJ Transit’s Long Island regulars is Devin Mattera, a die-hard New Jersey Devils fan who regularly takes the train to Newark Penn Station.

“Not being able to get to the games would definitely change a big part of my life,” said Mattera, 21, of Smithtown. “It would definitely make it difficult. There’s no question about it.”

In a statement Friday, NJ Transit interim executive director Dennis Martin emphasized “this will not be a normal commute for anyone — particularly with the potential for more than 10,000 additional cars on the road per peak hour.”

“NJ TRANSIT remains committed to operating a plan that the overall system and region can safely handle to accommodate as many customers as possible who absolutely must travel into and out of New York, bearing in mind that bus service cannot replicate the railroad,” Martin said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will do its part to minimize the chaos of a potential strike, including by providing shuttle bus service for customers on Metro-North’s Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, which are operated by NJ Transit, rerouting express bus routes to avoid traffic congestion, and adding additional personnel at subway stations near PATH stations and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

“We don’t expect to see ridership in excess of what we normally see. And in the Long Island Rail Road’s case, it may be even less, because there won’t be as many people possibly coming into Penn Station,” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said Wednesday.

A coalition of a dozen unions representing 4,500 NJ Transit employees looking for a new agreement are at odds with management over wage increases and employee health benefit contributions. The workers have been without a contract since 2011. Both sides were scheduled to continue talks Friday.

The clash is reminiscent of that between a coalition of LIRR unions and MTA management in the summer of 2014. In that case a settlement was reached three days before LIRR workers could have legally walked off the job.

LIRR union boss Anthony Simon, who led the negotiations, said his members stand with their fellow railroaders.

“They’re our brothers and sisters from another state. We support them and we want them to get a fair deal and be able to go to work every day,” said Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, who believes the impact of a NJ Transit strike would be “very similar” to one involving the LIRR.

“We’re talking about passenger service that is very important to the economy of New York,” said Simon, adding that, in both cases, railroaders refuse to be undervalued. “They have bills to pay as well.”

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