News & Politics

MTA Strike: Long Treks and ($10) Dollar Vans


Sancho Quinones, 35, of Fort Greene Brooklyn, was about to make the trek over the Brooklyn Bridge in freezing weather—for the second time today.

New York City might be having its first transit strike in 25 years, but Quinones was determined to reach his girlfriend’s house in the Bronx. The first commute by foot hadn’t been so bad. “It was pretty crowded, but it was fun,” he said, bundled in dark parka and hat near the Atlantic Avenue mall in Brooklyn. “People were okay about it.”

Quinones said he had just gotten laid off as a maintenance worker at a downtown Manhattan hotel. A union worker himself, he had no doubt about which side he supported in the strike. “The TWU is the backbone of the city’s unions,” he said. “They don’t want to quit. It’s good for the rest of us.

His plan was to walk to Grand Central, in Manhattan—a distance of about five miles, which he expected to cover in an hour—and then take a Metro North train to the Bronx.

Unlike New York subways and buses, Metro North isn’t on strike. Neither is the Long Island Railroad, which has a major station not far from the Atlantic Avenue mall. People looking to get into Manhattan turned to commuter rail instead—commuter rail and the city’s famous dollar vans.

“42nd Street! 42nd Street!” called the dollar-van drivers, trolling for passengers among the people outside the Long Island Railroad station. “Union Square! Brooklyn Bridge!”

Business was good, with college kids, Wall Street types, and holiday travelers dragging suitcases piling in. “Where’s the van?” they’d ask. The price had gone from $1 for a ride to downtown Brooklyn to $2. A ride into Manhattan was going for $20.

A man with a British accent asked whether the drivers were going to NYU. They weren’t. “Well, I’m stranded,” he said, and walked off.

Paul Chalmers, a dollar-van operator, said he had first considered the traffic and said, “Forget it, I’m not driving people.” Then it occurred to him that he could make a good bit of dough. He was off on his first run of the day, to 42nd Street. The money was good, but the traffic, he said, was still “hectic, hectic.”

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