Post-storm commuters find long lines and longer rides
New Yorkers reeling from a chaotic commute on Thursday were set to get a slight reprieve Friday with extra subways and commuter lines being added, but hours-long lines and overcrowding seemed all but likely with power still out in lower Manhattan, officials said.
With partial subway service on 14 of the MTA's 23 lines returning for the first time all week on Thursday morning and a lack of power downtown cutting off trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the MTA was forced to improvise with shuttle buses between the boroughs, which had orderly, but massively long lines that rivaled those of amusement park rides. Crowds were particularly large near the Barclays Center during the morning rush hour; enormous lines wrapped around police barricades along several streets on Manhattan's East side at night.
It took Teresa Barrow, 38, more than two hours to commute to work from Fort Greene to Herald Square on Thursday morning after she gave up on a shuttle bus from the Barclays Center and eventually caught an M5 bus. The driver skipped several stops because the bus was too crowded to take on passengers, she said.
"You have to have the patience of St. Teresa just to commute from Brooklyn to the city," she said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced that a section of the No. 7 line was set to start running Friday morning from Main Street to 74th Street in Queens and that the M train had begun traveling from Queens to Manhattan, instead of only in a small portion of Queens. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North were also set to add commuter train service by Friday morning. All MTA services will be free on Friday.
The officials expressed frustration with Con Edison, which has yet to restore power to lower Manhattan, forcing subways to terminate at 34th Street. They said the MTA could add service on the No. 4/5 and F lines between Manhattan and Brooklyn within two hours of Con Ed bringing power back, but the energy company had said earlier in the day that it could only promise to have it back up by Saturday.
"We're ready. We just need to get the juice back in there and then we can run them," Lhota said of the service. "It's our goal to continue to add every day."
Lhota said the agency would also have to stop running regular bus service below 23rd Street in Manhattan at night because it was too dangerous for drivers to continue their routes without traffic lights.
In a letter to the region's utility companies, including Con Ed, Cuomo threatened to take action against companies that didn't restore service knocked out by Hurricane Sandy's damage in a timely manner.
"New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare for this eventuality. In the context of the ongoing emergency, such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust," he wrote, according to a copy of the letter released on Thursday.
Con Edison did not return a message for comment about Cuomo's comments by press time.
Sharee Sinkler, of Bensonhurst, was among the last in the bus shuttle's line at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue with hundreds of people in front of her.
"I think they're doing the best they could," Sinkler, 33, said of the MTA. "The water is just everywhere in subways, so like, what can they really do?"
She added: "I had cabin fever, so I'm just glad to be in the city at all."
George Nickens, who works at Macy's, recommended commuters leave early to avoid crowds.
"Go in early. Get out early," said Nickens, who waited about 25 minutes Thursday night to catch a shuttle bus from Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street, where a massive line wrapped up, down and around several blocks.
Nickens, of Brownsville, lauded the MTA for getting service back so quickly after the storm - and for not charging fares.
"That's a good P.R. move," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would continue to force New Yorkers driving into Manhattan to carpool with at least three people in each vehicle to reduce congestion. Bus lanes were also being enforced to speed up commutes.
"Safety is our paramount concern, not convenience," he said during a news conference on Thursday.
Cuomo said one tube of the Holland Tunnel would be opened on Friday, but only for buses.
(With Tim Herrera and Sheila Anne Feeney)