For most of the pandemic, Chris Sloan, 41, has commuted by rail from Sayville, Long Island to his construction job in Manhattan. But when he got to the Ronkonkoma stop of the Long Island Rail Road at 5 a.m. on Monday, he was confronted by the consequences of the MTA’s latest cuts to service: while three NYC-bound trains typically passed the station in an hour, he said, that number is now reduced to one.
Unsurprisingly, the train was packed, with commuters pressed against each other in the aisles and unable to social distance for the 90 minute journey, according to Sloan.
“It’s a mess,” he told Gothamist. “Everyone was pissed off, but kind of together in the struggle with the quiet knowledge that LIRR screwed us all.”
As the MTA began implementing its pandemic-driven service reductions to the LIRR on Monday, Long Island commuters from across the system reported similar woes.
“Can’t wait to contract covid as I f-cking stand all the way into the city to be late to work every day!” tweeted one commuter. “I don’t think there are words to express how much I hate this company.”
First day on the new bullshit schedule and the train is 10 minutes late and the train is so packed that I can’t even sit. Thanks a lot @LIRR !!!!
— that guy Sean (@seanv0321) March 8, 2021
On the first day of new service cuts on the @LIRR, it’s standing-room only on the 6:16 train into the city from Bellmore, per a reader, who sent this photo. “This is a disaster for the commuters. Packed in like a rush hour subway car.” pic.twitter.com/MLKi865nJI
— Jesse Coburn (@Jesse_Coburn) March 8, 2021
While a new round of federal funding has allowed the MTA to avoid its most catastrophic cuts, the transit authority is still going forward with a plan to run weekday LIRR service on an “enhanced” weekend schedule. MTA CEO Pat Foye has described the decision as “rightsizing,” framing the reduction as a necessary move when ridership remains below 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
In a letter sent last week, eight State Senators in Queens and Long Island urged Foye against implementing the new “skeleton schedule,” arguing that the cuts were illogical at a time when more New Yorkers were getting vaccinated and much of the city was beginning to reopen.
To every @LIRR rider sitting in a packed, cramped train car right now: I see & hear you. Keep sending your photos in! We must return to the old schedule and get everyone back to work safely. pic.twitter.com/1AiyvOxB9K
— Todd Kaminsky (@toddkaminsky) March 8, 2021
“To reduce service at this time doesn’t make sense, and we’re seeing the fruits of that decision this morning when people found themselves jammed in with their neighbors,” State Senator Todd Kaminsky told Gothamist on Monday. “This wasn’t a shock. This is something that had been contested and discussed.”
Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, said that LIRR service had a direct impact for New York City residents, since reductions would likely result in more people driving into the city. “It will mean a significant damage to our quality of life, and it should be an urgent priority of the governor to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
In a statement issued to riders on Monday, LIRR President Phil Eng acknowledged that there were “sporadic and isolated incidents of crowding on a few trains.” He pledged to add additional service in the evening rush hour and on Tuesday morning, adding that the agency would “monitor ridership and make adjustments as necessary.”
A spokesperson for the MTA also directed customers to its capacity tracking app, which shows the level of crowding on a given train.
Sloan, the Sayville commuter, said that when he used the app on Monday morning, it showed that most of his train was more than 85 percent full.
“People commuting understand there is risk and deal with it to continue to earn a living. But these schedule changes take everything we’ve been told for the past year and completely ignore it,” he said.
“After all the sacrifices people have made, this is not the time for this.”