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After Sandy, commuting remains an ordeal

The LIRR station in Islip, empty after Superstorm

The LIRR station in Islip, empty after Superstorm Sandy, which severely damaged the tracks with water and debris. (Oct. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

Long Island commuters with fewer than three people in their cars were banned yesterday from crossing the East River bridges, but through tomorrow, they can take the train for free.

Late Wednesday night, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a "transportation emergency" and the subways, rails and buses will not charge fares.

The governor said MTA fares, including those on the LIRR, would be waived through Friday to help cut down on road congestion coming into the city. "We hope it encourages people to take mass transit," Cuomo said, adding that the crush of drivers yesterday caused "an intolerable and dangerous situation."

The travel restriction came Wednesday as the region's transportation system started limping toward restoring service. Limited railroad service started Wednesday in the city, and limited subway service will start Thursday.

Bloomberg's carpooling edict -- also ordered for the Lincoln Tunnel -- is to be enforced through Friday between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Getting more of the region's public transit system functioning is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's challenge, chairman Joseph Lhota said. "That's our overriding goal -- to get all of our 8 million customers that we have every single day back to the system as quick as possible."

With subways and train systems crippled by the storm, traffic increased, slowing to barely a crawl in New York City, especially Manhattan.

"The streets just cannot handle the number of cars that have tried to come in," Bloomberg said.

Take in tunnel travelers

He suggested that vehicles with fewer than three occupants offer rides to people who may be standing outside the tunnels.

The three-person minimum also will be enforced at the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge, but not at the George Washington Bridge.

The LIRR was to begin running hourly trains between Ronkonkoma and Penn Station, and between Great Neck and Penn, in time for Thursday's morning rush. Hourly service returned between Jamaica and Penn Station and Jamaica to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn Wednesday.

Subways were scheduled to start limited service Thursday morning on 14 lines, supplemented by buses between Manhattan and Brooklyn. There will be no service below 42nd Street in Manhattan because of power outages in lower Manhattan, Lhota said. City buses returned to full service Wednesday.

Flooding from superstorm Sandy had caused a systemwide shutdown of the region's rail transit on Monday.

Wednesday brought another cleanup opportunity for LIRR workers, who removed 144 trees from tracks and cleared other debris, including boats, and repaired power to third rails.

LIRR president Helena Williams said the agency was focused on restoring its four busiest lines -- Port Washington, Ronkonkoma, Babylon and Huntington.

The LIRR will turn to lines with lighter ridership, including Hempstead and Far Rockaway. Coastal areas like Oyster Bay and Long Beach, which suffered "tremendous damage," could take longer, as could portions of the LIRR system in eastern Suffolk, Williams said.

The railroad is also challenged because it only has access to two of the four East River tunnels used for Penn Station. It has to share those tunnels with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

"We recognize that we need to get as much service out there as we can," Williams said, "Every day it will get better."

The LIRR will honor October monthly tickets through Nov. 5, officials said.

Airports start to lift off

New York City's major airports are offering limited service Thursday. LaGuardia Airport is to open Thursday with limited flights, Port Authority officials said.

Wednesday brought the first day for airline service at Kennedy, Newark Liberty and Long Island MacArthur airports since Sandy struck.

Departure boards at Kennedy lit up with red cancellation notices for flights to cities across the U.S., Europe and Asia. "It's not been fun," said Thomas Melcher, a Frankfurt banker whose five-day vacation with his wife, Christine, was interrupted by Sandy.

Most bridges and tunnels were open. Three tunnels serving Manhattan remained closed: the Queens-Midtown, Hugh L. Carey (also known as the Brooklyn-Battery) and Holland. They could remain closed into the weekend, Bloomberg said.

Starting Thursday morning, NICE Bus will restore 80 percent of all service and will be adding routes as road conditions improve, according to a statement from Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's office.

Routes will operate on a regular weekday schedule and will not charge fares through Friday. Suffolk County Transit, which has not run any buses since last Friday, said it would return to regular service Thursday.

NY Waterway Thursday will return with modified East River ferry service, city officials said.


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