Grace Kalmus stepped out of her Sheepshead Bay apartment building a few minutes before 3 a.m. Thursday and walked in the darkness toward the green taxi waiting to take her to the Queens-Nassau line.
For more than three months during the pandemic, the ride has been a key part of her daily commute to 178th Street and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, where she then catches a Nassau Inter-County Express bus to the start of her 6 a.m. shift at a Hempstead Home Depot.
“I’d rather be early than late,” said Kalmus, 63, who works as a cashier. “By 3:30, I’m at the bus stop, because you just don’t know how the bus will be running.”
The first leg of her trip is courtesy of the MTA, which, since May, has spent more than $6 million on for-hire vehicle trips for roughly 1,500 essential workers as a commuting alternative during the nightly 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. subway shutdown.
“It’s been great, but it’s going to end,” Kalmus said, as she settled into the back seat of the taxi. “I’m screwed.”
The temporary program is set to end at 5 a.m. Sunday, a victim of the MTA’s financial misery, which has the agency warning of soaring fare increases, thousands of layoffs and up to 40% in transit service cuts without a $12 billion injection of federal emergency aid.
The MTA has said the average per-cost trip on the for-hire vehicles is $49. Approximately 40% of those trips, an MTA spokesperson said, begin or end in Manhattan’s central business district.
For Kalmus, the 3 a.m. trek — which she books days in advance on the MTA “Essential Connector” website — takes her in a distant opposite direction.
Her car ride through Brooklyn and Queens to the city line typically takes 20 minutes, followed by a 35- to 40-minute bus trip into Nassau County.
Prior to the suspension of overnight subway service, Kalmus said she would take the five-block walk to the nearest Q train stop, transfer to the F to Jamaica–179th Street and then catch a bus to Hempstead. The trip typically took about 90 minutes, she said.
“It’s never been the easiest commute,” Kalmus conceded.
Turning to Buses
MTA spokesperson Abbey Collins said the agency expects that several hundred of the 1,500 users of for-hire vehicles will now shift to the three new interborough express bus services that run while the subway is closed.
The new B99 (Midwood, Brooklyn, to Midtown West), Bx99 (Woodlawn, The Bronx, to West Village) and M99 routes (East New York, Brooklyn, to Hell’s Kitchen) were designed using data from commuters who signed up for the for-hire vehicle services.
Collins said the MTA pinpointed hotspots based on the most common trip origins and analyzed which riders crossed over to buses.
“We want to be as responsive as possible to the needs of our customers and worked to tailor service to meet demand based on our analysis of the ridership and travel patterns we are seeing during the overnight,” Collins told THE CITY.
Those routes supplement the overnight bus service that expanded with the May 6 start of the overnight subway suspension.
Approximately 20,000 people nightly have been riding the buses during the subway shutdown, according to the MTA, which on Monday will resume front-door boarding and fare collection on local and Select Bus Service routes.
The end of the overnight for-hire vehicle program was preceded in July by the elimination of for-hire vehicle service to and from Staten Island.
That cut caused Jason Anthony, 34, to wait for subway service to reopen at 5 a.m. so he can get to his 7 a.m. shift at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island. He takes an N or R train from Downtown Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, where he then grabs the ferry to a bus that drops him off at the fulfillment center in Bloomfield.
“It would pick me up and it would take me directly to my job,” Anthony said. “It was the most convenient thing, but even though we know the financial situation the MTA is in, I was still surprised when the service ended.”
Kalmus said she’s mapping out the next phase of her commute, which she hopes will include a Long Island Rail Road trip to Hempstead from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.
“Just want to get to work on time,” she said.