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What you need to know for 06/25/2017

Penn Station commuters plot Plan B for 'summer of hell'

Penn Station commuters plot Plan B for 'summer of hell'

'I think we have to react a little bit like the crisis mentality after Hurricane Sandy'
Penn Station commuters plot Plan B for 'summer of hell'
Commuters on escalators and steps at Penn Station in New York on May 30, 2017.
Photographer: Jeenah Moon/The New York Times

NEW YORK — The train schedules are set. Commuters have been warned. Now the hard part begins.

Pennsylvania Station in New York will soon become even more intolerable than commuters thought was possible when aging tracks are closed for repairs and the number of trains serving the nation’s busiest station is significantly reduced.

The hundreds of thousands of commuters who rely on the station are poring over scrambled schedules. They are searching for information about alternate routes into Manhattan by ferry, subway and bus. They are having tough conversations with bosses about missing work.

Their employers likewise are trying to devise coping strategies. Some are considering flexible hours. Others are deciding who could work from home or a satellite office outside Manhattan.

“I think we have to react a little bit like the crisis mentality after Hurricane Sandy,” said Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR Realty, which has offices in Midtown Manhattan and in Uniondale on Long Island. “There’s going to be a need for some behavioral adjustment to reduce the demand at peak hours.”

Officials at the three railroads that share Penn Station — Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road — have pledged to limit the pain. But commuters who have watched service deteriorate in recent months are justifiably skeptical that things will go even remotely smoothly when the eight weeks of upheaval start on July 10.

Many veteran commuters are hoping to avoid Penn Station altogether. In search of a Plan B, they will brave traffic-clogged roadways to drive to New York City. They will rearrange their schedules to work from home or use vacation time during July and August. Or they will hope for the best when their trains detour to Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey or Jamaica Station in Queens.

Marissa Espinoza, a consultant who lives in Lindenhurst on Long Island said she would try to work from her company’s office on Long Island and drive to Manhattan when she had to, handing over at least $60 to park in a garage to avoid being stuck on a train.

“This is really making me rethink my plans for the summer,” she said. “We’re trying to do as many meetings as possible by videoconference.”

Beatrice Body Miller plans to set her alarm for 4 a.m. and drive to a nearby New Jersey Transit station to catch a 5:43 a.m. train on the Morris and Essex line to Penn Station before that line starts diverting to Hoboken.

“I’ve never seen the world at that hour,” said Body Miller, who lives in Flanders, New Jersey. “It’s going to be tough.”

New Jersey Transit commuters who live along the Morris and Essex Line, which snakes through both working-class and well-off communities west of Newark, will suffer the brunt of the hardship. Rush-hour trains will be rerouted to Hoboken, where riders will have to switch to PATH trains or ferries. In exchange, commuters on the line will receive steep discounts.

Officials at Long Island Rail Road initially said the agency would not offer fare discounts during the repairs. But Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York urged the railroad to consider reducing fares for commuters whose trains are diverted away from Penn Station.

Only a few early-morning trains — those that finish their runs by 7 a.m. — will still go to Penn Station. Anticipating that some commuters, like Body Miller, will sacrifice sleep to avoid having to transfer to the PATH train or a ferry at Hoboken, New Jersey Transit turned the last direct train to Manhattan into two.

The first — train 6696 — will stop at stations at the west end of the line, then run as an express to Penn Station. The second — train 6306 — will stop at stations skipped by the first. Combined, the trains will contain 19 double-decker cars that can hold about 2,600 passengers.

Jennifer Polishook, who lives on the line in South Orange, New Jersey, said she would work from home three days a week and try the ferry from Hoboken to West 39th Street in Manhattan. But she said she was not sure how well the ferry would run or how she would get to her office in Chelsea once she got off.

“The best way to get to work is unknown at this moment,” she said.

Polishook worries that she and her husband will lose valuable time with their two young children this summer. She will miss swim meets, she said, and will lean on friends to help with child care when she is delayed.

“Now my entire summer becomes an emergency,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get home.”

The Long Island Rail Road is also offering a ferry option from Glen Cove on the North Shore of Long Island. Glen Cove has a ferry terminal but limited parking, so RXR agreed to let ferry riders park this summer on a site it is developing next to the terminal, said Seth Pinsky, an executive vice president of RXR.

“One of the lessons that we’re all learning from what’s going on this summer is that we need to have multiple options for commutation,” Pinsky said. “We have infrastructure that requires significant investment and as a result of that there are going to be periods of time when Method A may be more challenging and people should have the option of going to Method B.”

Rechler said RXR was contemplating which employees could work from its Long Island offices instead of Manhattan. He said the company, which owns office buildings around the city, was also considering offering temporary space in its suburban buildings so that its tenants in Manhattan could spare some workers the commute.

Gib Chapman wants to take his commute from Long Island into his own hands. He recently texted a friend who owns a boat asking how much it would cost to take it into Manhattan each day with a group of friends.

Chapman, who lives in Oyster Bay and works in finance, said his office was also discussing whether people might work from home. He usually takes a train to the Hunterspoint Station in Queens and transfers to the subway, but he fears the trip will be a “horror show” during the track repairs, with more people transferring to an already overburdened subway.

“It’s full enough that if you have 25 percent more people going from Hunterspoint, it’s going to be a real issue,” he said.

Riten Jaiswal has the same concern about crowds at the Hunterspoint Station, especially since he fractured his ankle and walks with a limp.

“I feel that I could be trampled or even shoved down the staircase because I’m going too slow,” said Jaiswal, who lives in Little Neck and works in information technology.

Instead of braving crowds on the railroad, Jaiswal said he planned to drive to Manhattan during the repairs — a trip that could take more than two hours each way. The gridlock on the roads could be a horror of a different kind, and garages are looking to capitalize on the mayhem. A sign outside Penn Station on a recent morning targeted desperate commuters with discount parking rates.

Michael Lowinger, a Long Island commuter who lives in Seaford, had planned to use his vacation days earlier in the summer, but rescheduled his time off so that he would have two weeks of vacation starting on July 10, right as the track repairs begin.

“I’ll be out of the office for those days, so I won’t have to deal with at least the first issues,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll get things in order.”

Veronique Hakim, the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the Long Island Rail Road and the subways, said the agency would be sending letters to employers asking them to consider flexible work hours and locations. But many commuters do not have the option of working remotely.

Caroline Barilla works in human resources and has to be in her Manhattan office to have access to the files she needs. If her Long Island Rail Road train is delayed during the repairs, she fears she will lose part of her wage of about $20 an hour, she said.

“One hour is not a huge deal, but when it happens once a week, it adds up,” she said.

Barilla, who lives in Malverne, said it was frustrating to pay about $260 for a monthly pass only to face delay after delay. She hopes the construction work at Penn Station will help solve the constant disruptions.

“If we’re still seeing these delays after the repairs,” she said, “then I’ll be angry.”

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