The MTA announced Wednesday that it is scaling back a fleet of 200 shuttle buses chartered for Long Islanders during eight weeks of emergency repair work at Penn Station. Buses have been underutilized since the so-called "Summer of Hell" kicked off Monday, the MTA conceded. The degree of underutilization, not elaborated in today's press release, appears to be extreme. We watched fourteen charter buses pull up to, or pass, the designated drop off points at 34th Street and 7th Avenue this morning. Four of the buses were empty, and none had more than two passengers.
"I've taken the bus every day. It's awesome. I love it," said Maureen Peritz, a 46-year-old office manager from Seaford. "I think people are just creatures of habit and they're afraid to give it a try, but it's awesome. And I haven't really heard them saying on the news that they're empty, take the bus."
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) July 12, 2017
"I was truly the only person," said 50-year-old Marina Molina from Melville. "There's someone else that rides with me, but I didn't see him today. I guess he took another bus."
"It's just a quiet and nice straight commute, as opposed to stopping on the railroad, and I guess the [lack of] noise really," Molina added. "I'll tell you, it's been a smooth ride."
Nearby, an MTA employee stood by with paper and pencil, marking off the passenger counts on each bus. He declined to comment, though MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told NBC this week that the MTA will be analyzing bus usage in the coming days.
The MTA launched its alternative service options for LIRR riders on Monday, including new ferry service and train reroutings to subway stations in Brooklyn and Queens. Initially, charter buses departed every 20 to 30 minutes between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., from Valley Stream, Belmont Park, Roosevelt Field, North Hempstead Beach Park, Melville Park and Ride, Nassau Coliseum, Bathpage State Park, and Seaford. Manhattan morning drop-offs included East 34th Street and 3rd Avenue; West 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues; and Grand Central Terminal.
In the evenings this week, buses have departed from West 34th Street, East 34th Street, East 42nd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and Lexington Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets.
Starting tomorrow, the MTA will slash all service at North Hempstead Beach Park, Roosevelt Field, and Bethpage State Park, and Grand Central. Buses will depart on the half hour in the mornings between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., and in the evening between 3:00 and 7:00 a.m.
"While the MTA is committed to offering commuters a range of options, some adjustments will be made to reflect consumer demand," the authority stated.
Riders said the MTA could have done a better job advertising the charter buses.
"This is my first time taking the bus, because they're not advertising," said Stephanie Ramsey, 51, who had a Nassau Colosseum bus to herself this morning. "Saturday or Sunday I saw that they were going to have buses, but I didn't see where or what time."
Ramsey said her typical commute is about 30 minutes shorter than the bus ride, but the comfort makes it worthwhile. "Most definitely, every day I will be on the bus," she said. "I was reading, I was texting, it was great."
Last night, Ramsey, who works at City College near 137th Street, opted for a rerouted LIRR train from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. "Everybody's going to Brooklyn, and that's a pain," she said. "This [bus] is way better. Last night it took me two-and-a-half hours to get home."
Asked about the cost of the buses before and after tomorrow's planned service reduction, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said they "don't have figures yet." Acting MTA Director Ronnie Hakim recently hinted at a price tag in the millions for all planned LIRR contingencies—a bill that neither the MTA, nor Amtrak, would like to front.
"I have not heard a thing, and a lot of board members have the same question," said Andrew Albert, chair of the New York City Transit Riders Council and a nonvoting member of the MTA Board, of the cost and payment plan.
"If it looks like nobody is going to use the buses," he added, "why go through that expense?"