Still no official contingency plan from MTA as LIRR negotiations break down

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – Negotiations broke down between the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road union Tuesday, and the next step for the transit authority is apparently a trip to Washington — but customers remain in the dark about to do if the looming July 20 strike becomes a reality.

The MTA sent a letter to Congress asking for clarification about its role after the latest talks ended without an agreement. But with 11 days to go before the proposed LIRR strike date, there is still no official contingency plan for thousands of riders who would be affected.

“We are yet to see any official plan or even a draft of one,” said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council.

The single preliminary plan released by the MTA so far would accommodate just one-third of the 300,000 daily LIRR commuters.

Shuttle buses likely will be available in the event of a strike, the agency said. But the shuttles would be “extremely limited,” providing service to just six of the 122 LIRR stations – Freeport, Hicksville, Bellmore, Seaford, Deer Park and Ronkonkoma.

The buses would take commuters directly from the LIRR station to select NYC subway stations.

Also included in the plan are Park & Ride lots at Citi Field and the Aqueduct Racetrack, and carpool lots at Valley Stream State Park, Hempstead Lake State Park, Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale State College, Belmont Lake State Park, Sunken Meadow State Park, and Heckscher State Park.

But MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan insisted that because shuttle buses would be handling a bulk of commuters, it would have consequences. Buses would be overcrowded and susceptible to traffic jams.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 20: During the evening commute home, Long Island Rail Road passengers crowd around a monitor waiting for track information December 20, 2005 in New York City. City transit workers decided to strike for the first time in 25 years, stranding millions of workers who use the bus and subway system each day. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 20: During the evening commute home, Long Island Rail Road passengers crowd around a monitor waiting for track information December 20, 2005 in New York City. City transit workers decided to strike for the first time in 25 years, stranding millions of workers who use the bus and subway system each day. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

MTA chief spokesman Adam Lisberg suggested it would be best not to go to work at all.

“The best thing that you can do is try not to commute. If you can telecommute, if you can work with your bosses, if you can take a vacation that week, that’s a great alternative,” Lisberg said. “There’s a limit to how much we can do. There are not enough buses or lanes in the world to make up for the Long Island Rail Road.”

Anthony Simon, head of the United Transportation Union which is spearheading efforts on the LIRR side, said this could be the “most devastating strike Long Island has ever seen.”

“Yet the MTA will make that gamble,” he said. “The whole East End would be devastated. What some small businesses would lose in one day, they’ve lost it forever.”

LIRR workers have been working without contracts since 2010. Since then, they have fought for a better deal for themselves.

The MTA and LIRR have been working toward an agreement, but no compromise has been found so far.

MTA offered LIRR workers 17 percent raise over seven years, but workers must contribute to healthcare costs. They currently don’t pay for health insurance.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that he will stay out of the LIRR – MTA conflict as much as possible.

He, along with MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, has urged Congress to intervene.

Congress has three options: they can pass a resolution and prevent the strike; allow the strike and then pass a resolution, sending LIRR workers back; or do nothing, allowing the strike and taking no action to send LIRR workers back to their jobs.