As the third week of the "Hoboken Summer" on the Morris & Essex and Gladstone Lines draws to a close, the return to pre-1996 commuting on those lines is still going relatively well.  Still, many riders are looking forward to the next five weeks going quickly, so they can commute into Penn Station, New York once again.

 

Our site visits to Hoboken indicated a busy terminal, reminiscent of the days before we had the Midtown Direct route, and everybody went to Hoboken.  The scene was orderly, and everybody seemed to know where to catch the PATH train or ferry in the morning, and the right train to take them home at the end of the day.  NJ Transit employees were on hand to assist customers, and they reported that the Hoboken operation was going smoothly.  Some trains were packed with standing riders leaving Hoboken, although the boarding process was easy, since track assignments are posted well in advance of departure at Hoboken.  PATH trains were crowded during peak-commuting hours, but crush-loads were not common, except in the event of delays on the PATH system.  Those delays occurred form time to time, however. 

 

Not all trains to and from Hoboken have been crowded.  Even at peak-commuting hours, it appeared that all riders were accommodated, as long as their trains ran.  Ridership to and from Hoboken has been lighter than expected, prompting speculation that a significant number of commuters worked from home or found another way to get to their offices.  Perhaps they were scared off by expectations of a chaotic start to the summer service, or by fears of the "Summer of Hell" that was forecast by the media.  If ridership continues at current levels through August, there should be no problem providing transportation for them. 

 

We have observed that ridership is especially light on mid-day trains, and we hope that "off-peak" ridership recovers to prior levels in September.  We have also proposed that NJ Transit adjust Hoboken fares in the future, to encourage price-sensitive riders to commute to Hoboken instead of Penn Station, New York.  We have called for called for the restoration of discounted fares for travel outside peak-commuting hours, too.

 

While many riders used PATH trains between Hoboken and Manhattan, as expected, the ferries were also popular.  Riders gave the ferries high marks, although it is unclear how many riders will keep using them when they must pay a separate ferry fare, beginning in September.  The ferry operator, NY Waterway, calls the ferry and the connecting shuttle buses that take riders between Midtown Manhattan and the ferry terminal "the civilized commute," but that level of civilization requires extra time.  This writer boarded a shuttle bus to the ferry at 3:59 pm yesterday and eventually got to South Orange at 5:46; total travel time: one hour and 47 minutes.  Under the old schedule, with a walk to Penn Station and a change of trains at Newark, the arrival time would have been 4:55.  There is another travel option available to and from Hoboken: the #126 bus between there and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  We did not observe many riders getting on the bus at Hoboken Terminal, and it appears that most riders on that route still take it form Washington Street in Uptown Hoboken.

 

The major difficulty that has surfaced lately is the shortage of engineers to run the trains, so some were canceled.  That presented a problem as recently as this morning.  While we will not take sides in whatever labor dispute is ongoing, we express our concern that canceled trains disrupt the lives of the customers who ride those trains.  We hope that the parties to whatever dispute is occurring settle their differences soon, for the sake of the riders who are already being inconvenienced this summer.

 

As the summer service approaches the half-way point, it appears that things are going smoothly.  As we said two weeks ago: "So far, so good."