Facebook Twitter

End of MTA Taxi Service Leaves Overnight Commuters Waiting

SHARE End of MTA Taxi Service Leaves Overnight Commuters Waiting

Grace Kalmus, 63, starts her commute at 3 a.m. from her home in Sheepshead Bay to a Home Depot in Hempstead, Aug. 27, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/The CITY

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 Jamaica Center station in Queens is shuttered overnight, Aug. 27, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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. 

Long Island-bound buses leave from Jamaica, Queens for early morning commuters, Aug. 27, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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. 

Early morning commuters wait for subway turnstiles to open at Penn Station, Aug. 27, 2020.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

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.

The Latest
A new ‘Risk Management and Accountability System’ was all set to go, but following criticism from a federal monitor and reporting by THE CITY, the changes are on hold.
From sweeping definitions on what counts as a ‘sensitive location’ to new licensing requirements, Albany plans to test the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Some Second Amendment experts are skeptical.
Incumbents survived all but one challenge and progressive groups failed to make new gains — while outside spending failed to make a dent. More than $200,000 on one Bronx candidate yielded just 956 votes.
Insurgents won enough seats to threaten the leadership of Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and the machine that helped elect Mayor Eric Adams. Among those defeated Tuesday: her husband, who resigned a $190,000 city job to run for district leader.
New York City’s Class of 2022 returned to school full time after two disrupted years. Four graduating high school seniors told us about how they’ve persevered.