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MTA to scale back express bus, ferry services during Penn repairs

Paula Turkel of Merrick had her choice of

Paula Turkel of Merrick had her choice of seats on this express bus to Manhattan on Monday, July 10, 2017. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scaling back its little-used express bus and ferry services put in place three weeks ago to help LIRR commuters affected by the ongoing track repairs at Penn Station.

The MTA announced Saturday that it’s eliminating its ferry between Long Island City and East 34th Street, and reducing the frequency of buses between Manhattan and five Park & Ride locations on Long Island. The changes will take effect Wednesday.

“After careful review we’re adjusting our schedule to reflect our customers’ preferences,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement.

The buses, which have been operating every half-hour during the morning and evening commute rushes, will operate on the hour from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.

The buses and the Long Island City ferry have gotten little use since they began operating July 10, when the MTA kicked off its contingency plan to help commuters get around while an Amtrak construction project forces the LIRR to reduce rush hour service to and from Penn.

For many of the scheduled buses and the ferry, ridership has been in the single digits or less. Some trips have been canceled because there have been no passengers to transport, officials said.

The buses and ferries are part of a larger mitigation plan that has also included adding LIRR trains just outside the rush hours, adding cars to some trains, and giving riders incentives to avoid Penn.

“We’ve given LIRR customers an abundance of options and riders have chosen to use the additional LIRR cars, and free subway transfers at Atlantic Terminal and Hunterspoint,” Lhota said.

The MTA has already made changes to the plan since instituting it three weeks ago, including by reducing the number of locations where the buses are offered from eight to five — at Belmont Racetrack, Nassau Coliseum, the Melville Park & Ride, and at LIRR stations in Valley Stream and Seaford.

Last week, the LIRR also adjusted morning schedules to add Brooklyn connections to some trains and reduce crowding on the Port Washington line.

“The MTA continues to evaluate customer travel options during Amtrak’s emergency repair work at Penn Station this summer,” the MTA said in a statement.

Offering the extra services is costing $58 million, the agency revealed Wednesday. That includes $18 million for the express buses and $5 million for the ferries, which are both being operated by private vendors. Ferries between Glen Cove and Manhattan will remain in place.

MTA officials said scaling back the bus and ferries are expected to result in some cost savings, but did not specify an amount. The MTA has said it intends to recover the costs of the plan from Amtrak, which it blames for the disruptions. Amtrak has said it has no intention of reimbursing the MTA.

LIRR commuters can still also use New York City Ferry services between Long Island City and Manhattan, but will not be able to transfer for free from the LIRR. The elimination of the MTA’s Long Island City ferry also means the elimination of its free shuttle service between the LIRR’s Hunterspoint Avenue Station and the ferry terminal.

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