Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism and you could win a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland OR London, England!

Braving The Commute In New York


On a Thursday, November 1st, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

All morning long, we've been checking in with NPR reporters who have been like fish in a very crowded ocean. That is to say, they've taken part in the chaotic, New York City commute three days after Hurricane Sandy.

INSKEEP: It's a brutal morning because only scattered portions of the mass transit system have reopened, subways and trains on which the nation's largest city, the largest metropolitan area, depends.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Margot Adler is on one of the most famous streets in Manhattan, 34th Street. Margot?

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Hello, there. Yeah.

MONTAGNE: What's happening there?

ADLER: Well, I am standing in front of 22 smelly garbage bags on an intersection on 34th and Lexington, where there are no streetlights, first of all. And so there are cops directing traffic. And this is the place where all the buses - now, remember, the subways will not go to Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn. They cannot go where the power is out. So all of the subways - of which I just (unintelligible), and they're going great - only go to 34th Street.

So if you are coming from somewhere way Uptown - the Bronx, some other borough - and you want to go to city hall or you want to go to Brooklyn, you have got to get out of the subway, walk six or seven blocks and take one of these buses that are sitting here. And so it's this crazy...

INSKEEP: Because it's like the heart of the mass transit system is still not working. So many lines go through Lower Manhattan, where the worst flooding was. That's what you're saying.

ADLER: Exactly, exactly. So you have all these people trying to find the right bus. They're trying to find the bus to Brooklyn. They're trying to find a bus to city hall. They're trying to find a bus...

MONTAGNE: And, Margot, how are they? How are they?

ADLER: Well, they're pretty laid back, actually. I spoke to one person who's already had a three-hour commute from the Bronx. I spoke to a lot of people who came in in cars, and the traffic on the street is heavy, but not the horror show of yesterday. And that's because a lot of people came before 6 AM, when the rule was - the rule is after 6 AM, there's only three people to a - you have to have three people in any car to cross the bridge.

INSKEEP: High-occupancy vehicles. Margot, thanks for the high-quality reporting, counting the 22 garbage bags there on 34th Street. We should mention that suburban commuter trains are also disrupted, so NPR's Greg Allen took a bus into New York City from northern New Jersey today.

Greg, how was the ride?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, it was great for me, Steve, because I had a seat. But many people were standing, because the bus I took in came from Newark. And that's one of the areas that's served by the PATH trains, that general area. And all the riders who would like to take the PATH train in, of course, can't, because those tunnels are flooded. So lines that are near the PATH trains were full today, and they have standing room only.

Other lines I saw coming in - and I talked to other folks here - were not as crowded as usual. People are straggling back to work. So although it's (unintelligible) at the Port Authority terminal, workers here say, oh, this is a lighter-than-usual day. People are just still starting to make their way back.

MONTAGNE: Well, Greg, let's go from you to talking with NPR's Mike Pesca. Now, he's been making what you might call a reverse commute. He started in Manhattan. He headed away from the center of the city, across a bridge to Queens.

And how did that go, Mike?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, unlike Greg Allen, I decided to stand and give the commuters my seat. But I have to say, this Long Island Rail Road train that I'm on is relatively uncrowded. All Long Island Rail Road - all the subways are free. And, as far as I can tell, that might not be worth the money, because what's going on with the subways is they're invoking something called a bus bridge, which just means you get off on certain stops and take a bus over one of the bridges. But the buses aren't coming, and there are huge lines in places like Atlantic Avenue and the Barclay Center.

And there's a breakdown in communication, because I don't think a lot of people know that if they just get on the Long Island Rail Road train, they could get into the city rather easily. So transportation, the lines that it's working on, are working. Communication - maybe not so much.

INSKEEP: So, either people are not aware of what they can do, or maybe a lot of people have listened to the news reports of the commute, the early parts of the commute, and decided it might be better to stay at home.

PESCA: Well, that may be the case. But then again, there's so many cars just blocking every train and - sorry, blocking every bridge into the city. I don't know how many people are staying home just out of - you know, out of fear.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Mike Pesca, the people you have talked with, what are they saying about the commute this morning?

PESCA: It was good for most of them. The trains were less crowded. Some of them are coming from areas without a lot of power, so they might not even have known that the trains were coming. The real problem is that, really, only one-and-a-half lines on the Long Island Rail Road are working. If you're going uptown by subway, it's great. If you're going downtown, it's a nightmare.

INSKEEP: Mike Pesca, thanks very much for the update. Appreciate it.

PESCA: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: We also heard from NPR's Greg Allen and NPR's Margot Adler on a very unusual commute to New York City today. There is partial subway service, partial commuter rail and bus service in various parts of the New York Metro area. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.