NEW YORK — New York's subway system rumbled partially back to life Thursday, though the morning commute was plagued by long delays and massive gridlock on the main highways and bridges leading into the city.
Three days after Superstorm Sandy walloped the city, residents and commuters still faced obstacles as they tried to return to pre-storm routines.
Traffic was snarled on some bridges leading into Manhattan as police set up checkpoints to make sure three occupants were in cars traveling into the city — a new rule aimed at reducing road congestion. The subway started rolling at about 6 a.m. with 14 of the city's 23 subway lines offering at least some service.
"It's the lifeline of the city. It can't get much better than this," said Ronnie Abraham, who was trying to get home to Harlem from Manhattan's 34th street station.
Subway ridership was light and delays long on some lines as they returned to service.
In Brooklyn, Reid Ross, 25, was among around a dozen people waiting at 6:50 am for an F train in Brooklyn's Park Slope section. He was headed for a job in midtown Manhattan, but the train would only take him as far as downtown Brooklyn. Buses were available to take him the remaining 5 miles, but after seeing video of gridlocked streets on the news the day before, he wasn't sure how far he'd get.
"It looked terrible," he said. "I may walk. We'll see how bad it looks."
The train he got in rolled on with just a fraction of its normal passenger load, then sat in a station for 15 minutes while the train waited for a space in the next station.
Commuters driving into the city were plagued by long waits for a second day. Authorities reported severe delays on the Long Island Expressway leading into New York City. Motorists were advised to seek alternate routes. Police peered into the window of every car trying to cross into Manhattan from Queens on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, where traffic was backed up for blocks. Police turned away some cars through the morning, but NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said most motorists were complying with the car-pool rule.
Drivers could commute solo over the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York City, but there were still problems.
Joey Barroso, 28, drove alone from Teaneck, N.J., normally a 40-minute commute. He said it took him one hour and 10 minutes just to the George Washington Bridge — usually a 10-minute drive. Once off the bridge, he couldn't take the West Side Highway because a police officer stood at the highway entrance looking into every car to see if there were three people inside. Those that did not were directed to take the off-ramp.
"It was just a lot of madness," he said.
With only partial subway service, lines at bus transfer stations swelled throughout the morning. More than 1,000 people waiting for buses packed the sidewalk outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. At another transfer station nearby, a quickly moving line of commuters turned briefly into throngs of hundreds on a sidewalk when the stream of buses slowed down. When a bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. The bus loaded and pulled off, with most people still stranded at the curb. One transit employee shouted at the commuters left behind. She banged on a bus window, yelled at people inside, and then yelled at people in the line.
With gasoline supplies scarce, many stations in and around the city closed up shop while stations still open drew long lines of cars that spilled out on to roadways.
"Either they're out of gas or the lines are ridiculous. A lot of places are waiting for deliveries. I have no patience. Places that had gas yesterday, they no longer have gas," said Katie Leggio while she was in her car waiting in line in North Amityville, on Long Island.
Leggio, who works at a local caterer, had been searching for gas for two hours. And it was pricey: a gallon retailed for $4.39, about 50 cents higher than a week ago.
"I don't care. I need gas. I think it's ridiculous that they're doing this to us when we're down, but what are you going to do? We're desperate and we're helpless.
Delays also were common for the smaller number of people trying to get out of the city.
Yukun Yang, 23, a student from Guangzhou, China who attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., waited for an A train to 34th Street, where he could catch a bus to Albany.
"We have hurricanes and subways in my city, and we handle it much better," he said. "Hurricanes are normal, and they don't stop the subways."
Contributing were David Caruso, Karen Matthews in New York City and Frank Eltman in Long Island.