Students Heading Home Face Transportation Snarl

NEW YORK—As students stream into New York City for holiday break, many are finding their trek home significantly delayed and complicated by the transit strike declared early this morning.

With no agreement reached as of 12 a.m. today, over 30,000 bus and subway employees have agreed to walk off from their jobs, effectively crippling the city’s transportation network and affecting over seven million people.

The strike began just hours ago and the city remains in a state of confusion as its residents attempt to adjust to the situation.

Overall, many thought that the traffic was worse approaching the bridges, than it is inside of Manhattan.

“It’s coming into the city that’s the real nightmare,” Nicholas H. Ma ’05 said. “Once you’re inside, it’s not as bad.”

Traffic has been shut off on Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue and some cross-streets to allow for the passage of emergency vehicles, according to a New York City Police Department officer.

Undergraduates from the region who are planning to head home in the next few days are anxious about the strike’s affects on their travel.

“It’s going to be completely crippling,” said Sarah A. Sherman ’09. “New York City as we know depends really heavily on public transports and if cabs aren’t a legitimate backup, it’s going to be a big problem.”

Kara Elaine Kaufman '08 said she was most concerned about getting home from school, but that once settled in the city she would be able to travel on foot.

“I think for me personally I’m more worried about getting back from the bus station to my apartment with my baggage,” Kaufman said. “Once I’m in the city I‘m not going to worry about it as much. There’s always a way to get around...People will be resourceful.”

Many students also said that the strike will force them to make some changes to their holiday plans.

“It will definitely affect my time at home,” Joseph F. Quinn ’08 said. “I use the subway a lot to get around the city.”

As a result of the strike, commuters are struggling to find new means of transportation ranging from cold weather bike rides to crowded taxicabs and impromptu car pools.

Benjamin M. Lutero, who drives to work every day from Long Island, said that today he picked up three strangers from a subway stop a few miles out of the city.

“I used good judgment,” Lutero said. “I had to be careful about who was riding in my car.”

While this altruistic attitude seems to have been adopted by many, others have tried to take advantage of the strike. Many taxicabs have been running on flat fares, determined by city “zones,” picking up more than one passenger and sometimes stopping at bus stops, but others are profiting by charging illegally high amounts for short distances.

Francine N. Schweitzer, a commuter from Westchester who was able to take a cab for metered fare from Grand Central Station this morning, said her daughter had a taxi driver who tried to charge her $25 to get from the West Side to the East Side. Several taxi drivers refused to comment on fares during the strike.

Small retail businesses, which make some of their biggest profits during the holiday season, are also facing significant losses due to the strike.

“Any kind of interference in the daily pattern of New York makes a difference,” a salesperson at a small Upper East Side department store said.

While the city grapples with the first day of the shutdown, both students and commuters voiced their concerns on the effects of the strike if it continues.

“I hope they reach an agreement soon,” Quinn said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of chaos so much as just annoying a whole lot of people.”

Others said that the consequences of the strike could worsen if it continues.

“I think the first day of a strike there’s a sense of camaraderie and an obligation to fulfill responsibility that keeps people’s tempers occupied,” said Herbert A. Hochman, an Upper East Side doctor. “But after the first day, when people begin to suffer more, there’s a larger sense of frustration."

—Staff writer Claire M. Guehenno may be reached at guehenno@fas.harvard.edu.