Commuting After Sandy: A Strategy Guide

by  Maryrose Mullen | Nov 9, 2012

A week after Superstorm Sandy descended, people of the East Coast, many still without power, are attempting to return to normalcy. For a bulk of the area, this means braving the elements to venture back to work. Commuting can be frustrating, and in the wake of the storm, travelers have myriad obstacles to deal with: overcrowding, hours-long waits, limited schedules, downed lines, gas shortages, the list goes on. The most efficient solution is to, well, not travel at all, working from home as long as possible. But for those who need to present at the office, construction site, or space station to put in a 9-5, there are a few things to reduce stress.

Consider Alternate Routes

Most commuters have a tried and true path to get from door to door, one honed through weeks of trial and error. Maybe it’s walking a few blocks to a more direct subway line, or maybe it requires hopping from bus to train to hang glider. Maintaining that route in a post-Sandy environment has been increasingly difficult. Nearly all service lines were affected by the storm, some suffering structural damage that will take months to repair. Though service is gradually returning, it’s often limited, which makes for sardine-like conditions if you’re fortunate enough to nab a spot. Treat this time as when you first began your commute and exercise your options. Perhaps treking an extra 15 minutes to another train station will yield shorter lines and thinner crowds. Check if local buses offer shuttle service to ferries. If stranded in an area where service has yet to return, bundle up and hike to the nearest line. Maybe this is an opportunity to finally put that long-ago-purchased bicycle to use (only after thoroughly reviewing local cycling laws). It’s not an exact science, but keeping an open mind could reward wary travelers with faster routes and possibly savings.

Travel in Off-Peak Hours

It’s a no brainer it’s easier to travel when no one else is around. Roads and public transportation receive the highest volume of traffic between 6-8 a.m. and 5-7 p.m.  Making the commute during non-rush hours means less crowds, less lines, less cursing your lot in life for not being born of the avian persuasion. But making the trek outside of your usual timeframe is a gambit. Either you’re biding your time well before office hours, or trundling in well after. While coming in early might eradicate the stress of overcrowding and delays, time is still lost. Speak with your boss about modifying your work schedule. If not possible, load up your iPod and grab a good book. Now is an ideal time to catch up on your reading.

Keep an Eye on the Gas Gauge

Conserving gas is vital, especially with lines at stations spanning as long as a mile. Try not to use your car unless absolutely necessary. If you must get behind the wheel, look for announcements about when refills will be available. Both New York and New Jersey have instituted odd/even distribution days, based on the last number of a vehicle’s license plate. Be on the look out for stations where gas is available. Even if you must drive a few miles away, it may be worth it if it means skipping the wait.

Utilize Social Media for Service Updates

Social media has been an enormous asset to those in storm-ravaging regions. From coordinating volunteer efforts to providing critical news updates, platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter have been a boon. Straphangers can make adjustments to their daily grind with up-to-the-minute updates from their main service lines. NJTransit, the Path, and the MTA each maintain Twitter accounts that update with service delays and news. (The MTA’s account even links to the individual accounts for the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North, subway and bus.)  Staying plugged in could mean the difference between standing on the platform for hours and cruising to a seat. Equally indispensable is frequently checking service websites for modified schedules.

Be Kind

Obvious, but significant. Superstorm Sandy has left residents facing unprecedented devastation. Homes eviscerated, towns underwater, lives to be rebuilt from scratch. Everyone is struggling, in some way or another, to reconcile what has happened. The load does not get any lighter with cruelty. Be patient. Don’t be rude to your fellow commuters. Thank your bus drivers, your train conductors, your ferry captains, for their dedication. Remember, everyone on the train, on the bus, in the line, is standing with you, shoulder to shoulder. But don’t get too sappy. This is New York, after all.

Have a helpful tip we missed? Tell us in the comments!

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