NEW YORK CITY — A haphazard subway service began ferrying straphangers back to work Thursday as the city tried to build some semblance of normalcy after the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy.
Limited service began at 6 a.m., but passengers were warned to expect something very different to their regular commute, interrupted by major congestion and huge swaths of the massive subway system still out of service.
During rush hour Thursday morning, thousands of commuters gathered at the Barclays Center for free buses to shuttle them into Manhattan, with some waiting for more than an hour for a ride.
At one point, MTA officials with bullhorns and NYPD officers were herding the masses into a line that looped around the Barclays Center.
Tamesha Levy, 27, said she considered herself lucky because she'd only waited about 30 minutes for the bus into Manhattan.
"I'm scared of how it's going to be when I come back home," said Levy, a receptionist trying to make her way to her job on West 29th Street and Broadway from her apartment on Lefferts Boulevard in Brooklyn. "That's what makes me want to turn around."
Vernal Daley, a building maintenance worker, left his home at 6 a.m. to trek to West 15th Street, and was still waiting for a bus outside Barclays at 10:20 a.m.
"I'm not going back to work again," Daley said. "It makes no sense."
Each bus can hold up to 85 people. "But we're stuffing them in as best we can," said an MTA worker stationed at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue. And the ride into Manhattan was taking over an hour, the transit worker said.
For travelers not willing to wait, van drivers lined up at Barclays and charged commuters $10 per person for a ride out.
"That's a good deal," said Chris Turner, 39, of Bensonhurst.
Turner, who sells comedy tickets in Times Square, said he'd hopped on the D train to Atlantic Terminal Thursday morning, and had been waiting 20 minutes for a bus into Manhattan. On Wednesday, it took him more than five hours to get to Times Square.
But Turner decided to opt for the gratis bus ride this morning.
"This is free," he said, "so I'm trying to conserve."
Just 14 of the 23 subway lines were in partial operation. Many stations remained closed with flooded tunnels and power outages.
In Manhattan, they included all stops south of 34th Street on the west side, and 42nd on the east.
Early Thursday morning, hundreds of straphangers rode the J train to the Hewes Street stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and waited for the shuttle bus to drive them into Manhattan.
The buses made first stops into Delancey Street and Bowery.
“It’s been an inconvenience to get from point A to point B, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Leoni Taylor, 57, a nurse from Rosedale, Queens, while waiting for a shuttle bus at 7 a.m. Thursday.
Buses were crammed with passengers, but many commuters said it wasn't much more jam-packed than regular rush-hour travels.
“It’s better than nothing,” Taylor, who was commuting to Beth Israel Hospital at East 16th and First Avenue, added. “But there should be more buses.”
Still, some Manhattan straphangers early Thursday said they were surprised by how quickly their free subway rides arrived at the station.
Greg Aiello, who caught a 1 train at 6 a.m. Thursday from 215th Street, said he barely had to wait for a train.
"It's been an easy ride so far," said Aiello, 50, an architect who was heading to the gym at 72nd Street before heading into work on 34th street.
Jan Leja, 22, who waited for the N at the Astoria Boulevard station, said he was grateful that subway service was back, even if it's slow. On Wednesday, he had to shell out for an expensive cab ride to Manhattan.
"I'm just really happy that the N is running, frankly," he said. "We'll see how it goes."
At 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, Natasha Sugarman, 22, and Alyson Lindquist, 23, were halfway through their re-routed commutes to work in Times Square from the Upper East Side, and said they'd waited longer than usual — two trains had come and gone already, but were too crowded for them to squeeze in.
Still, they said, it was better than they expected.
"It hasn't been that bad," said Sugarman, adding that she was relieved to be getting back to work after days cooped up in the house. "It's been boring. I've been going crazy."
The MTA said restored service includes:
► 1 trains will run locally between 242nd Street and Times Square.
► 2 trains will run from 241st Street to Times Square. Express service will run between 96th Street and Times Square.
► 4 trains will run locally in two sections, between Woodlawn and Grand Central and between Borough Hall and New Lots Avenue.
► 5 trains will run express between Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue.
► 6 trains will run locally between Pelham Bay Park and Grand Central.
► The 42nd Street shuttle train will run between Times Square and Grand Central.
► A trains will run locally in two sections: Between 168th Street and Penn Station, and between Jay Street-MetroTech and Lefferts Blvd.
► D trains will run in two sections: locally between 205th Street and Herald Square, and between Atlantic Avenue and Bay Parkway with express stops between Pacific Street and 36th Street.
► F trains will run locally in two sections: between 179th Street and Herald Square, and between Jay Street-MetroTech and Avenue X.
► J trains will run locally between Jamaica Center and Hewes Street.
► L trains will run locally between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Parkway.
► M trains will run locally between Myrtle Avenue-Broadway and Metropolitan Avenue.
► N trains will run locally between Ditmars Blvd. and Herald Square.
► R trains will run locally between Jay Street-MetroTech and 95th Street.
► The 3, 7, B, C, E, G, Q and the Franklin Avenue and Rockaway Parkway shuttle trains remain out.
Shuttle buses will run:
► Between Barclays Center and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge
► Between Jay Street-MetroTech and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge
► Between Hewes Street and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Williamsburg Bridge. Buses are heading up Third Avenue in Manhattan, making stops at Delancey and Bowery, 14th Street, 23rd Street, 34th Street, 42nd Street and 54th Street.
Long Island Rail Road service was partly restored at 2 p.m.
► Service between Brooklyn and Jamaica was running hourly.
► Service between Jamaica and Penn Station was anticipated to resume Wednesday night.
► The Ronkonkoma Branch was expected to resume hourly service Thursday.
► The Port Washington Branch was expected to resume hourly service Thursday.
All fees have been waived.
Adam Nichols, Trevor Kapp and Jeanmarie Evelly contributed to this story.