MTA Chairman Joe Lhota expresses cautious optimism

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Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman, speaks at the MTA Genius Transit Challenge in late June.

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota expressed cautious optimism about how the “summer of hell” has unfolded so far on Friday, saying the system has kept moving but that the MTA will keep monitoring the situation.

“Every day is going to require us to be as vigilant as possible,” Lhota said in a teleconference with reporters.

The “summer of hell” refers to planned July 10 to Sept. 1 renovations at Penn Station, which is operated by Amtrak, meant to address long-term negligence of infrastructure. The repairs were expected to disrupt rush hour commutes and close three tracks.

Lhota said that commuters quickly adapted to schedule changes and alternative routes. Some morning riders opted to travel outside rush hour, which is 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., while evening riders left before 5:30 p.m. or later at night.

In total, the MTA had added 36 train cars to accommodate nearly 10,000 riders they expected to be affected by cancelled and rescheduled trains.

“Many of them commuted at different times than they normally did,” Lhota said. “And I’m very thankful for that.”

The vast majority of commuters did not utilize ferries and buses, Lhota said, instead opting to stick with trains. This prompted the MTA to eliminate busing from North Hempstead Beach Park, Roosevelt Field Mall and Bethpage State Park.

The ferries from Glen Cove were also under-utilized. Lhota said that passengers ranged from the high 30s to around 50, operating between 35 to 40 percent capacity.

Lhota said they will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether or not to scale back alternative service further.

Additionally, the MTA intends to keep uniformed “MTA ambassadors” at transfer points to help people navigate the subways.

The MTA had previously announced that it would cut fares for LIRR riders affected by the Penn Station construction. The LIRR will offer a 25 percent fare reduction for passengers traveling to Hunterspoint Avenue and Atlantic Terminal and free transfers from those subways.

This also includes trains diverted to these stations from Penn, as well as customers traveling to Long Island City, Nostrand Avenue and East New York.

Overall, LIRR commuters had shared Lhota’s cautious optimism. Sharon Elmaleh, a Great Neck lawyer who took an 8:19 a.m. train earlier this week previously said the second day also wasn’t bad for her.

“My commute yesterday and today was completely normal, as if there’s nothing going on,” Elmaleh said last Tuesday, noting there were no worse delays than usual.

But Elmaleh also said that she believes this is just the beginning.

“When they come out officially and say we’re going to have a hard summer, they wouldn’t alarm people for no reason,” she said. “It just hasn’t gotten to that point of the work yet.”

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