Railgram

The Railgram is the Coalition's official newsletter, published every two months and packed with in-depth coverage of the issues. For past issues and printer-friendly versions, click here.

You can’t stay out that late any more! That is what, in essence, New Jersey told riders on the Morris & Essex and Gladstone lines in September. NJT also said that they did not have to tell us in advance that our curfews on Monday through Friday nights would soon be much earlier.

The new restriction were into effect on Sept. 14, and applies to everybody who depends on transit and lives along the M&E or Gladstone Lines. Even people with automobiles who might prefer to take the train into New York City or Hoboken cannot stay out as late as they could before. On weekday nights, including Friday nights, the last train from the “City” is now 45 minutes earlier than under the old schedule. The last train to Dover now leaves Penn Station at 12:34, rather than 1:19. The last train to Gladstone now leaves Hoboken at 11:44 with its connecting train leaving Penn Station at 11:35. The 12:34 train had a connection to Gladstone until the latest schedule change. Inbound from Dover, the last train leaves at 10:32, instead of 11:37, and goes to Hoboken, instead of Penn Station. Passengers have to transfer at Newark to reach New York. The 1:19 to Dover and a connecting bus to Gladstone (while trains are suspended on weekends) still run on Saturday and Sunday nights only, but not on Fridays. Riders south of Long Branch on the North Jersey Coast Line (NJCL) must now leave New York by 11:18 pm; one hour and 42 minutes earlier than the departure time of the now-defunct 1:00 a.m. train. There was no prior notice of that change, either.

While the “official” effective date of the service cuts was Sunday, Sept. 13, NJT did not place a notice of those cuts on its website, www.njtransit.com, until the preceding Thursday afternoon. NJT officials claimed that they were not required to give notice of the impending elimination of these trains, claiming that the change was part of a semi-annual “service adjustment” and that management is not required to notify anyone of the proposed reductions in the length of the service day. None of the timetables on the affected lines carried a notice that the “last trains” leave earlier now.

The Boonton Line west of Montclair State and the Pascack Valley Line (PVL) also lost their last trains, except that the 12:45 departure still runs on the PVL on Friday nights only. NJT had given public notice of those two service cuts, but not of the ones on the M&E, Gladstone or NJCL.

The Lackawanna Coalition has protested both the cuts and the secrecy with which NJT implemented them. New Jersey Statute Section 27:25-8(d) requires a hearing in the event of a “substantial curtailment or elimination” of service. We believe that mandating a curfew for transit-dependent riders that is at least 45 minutes earlier than it had been is a sufficiently “substantial curtailment” of mobility to warrant notice. With notice, we and other advocates could have campaigned to save those trains; possibly to secure a grant to fund them.

We believe that NJT managers lulled us into a false sense of security by mentioning specific trains that were slated for elimination, while refusing to warn us that we would lose our trains, too. We could not fight to keep what we had no reason to know we would lose. We view this move by NJT as manifestly unfair to riders, and we continue to call for those trains to be returned to the schedule.

If you are concerned about the loss of our trains and about the secrecy with which they were taken away from us, we urge you to contact us on our website, www.lackawannacoalition.org. We are reaching out to our elected officials for support in our efforts to get our trains back, which would allow you to stay out as late as you could until recently.

Publisher’s Note: John Bobsin is Vice-Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and a resident of Basking Ridge, on the Gladstone line. Until recently, the last train he could take to get home connected with the 12:34 departure from Penn Station, New York. Now the last train leaves at 11:35; almost an hour earlier. Although he enjoys the opera, the new train schedule does not allow him to catch a late performance at the “Met” and come home by train. He could have done so easily, if the 12:34 train still had a Gladstone connection, but here is what he and his wife must do now to attend the opera.

On Oct. 8, we were able to get tickets to the Metropolitan Opera; the performance of Wagner’s Tannhaeuser was scheduled to end at 11:20 but actually ran to 11:30. The last NYP weekday departure with a Gladstone connection (since Sept. 14) is the 11:35 to MSU (Montclair State University), so if we had to depend on NJT, we couldn’t have seen the whole performance.

Knowing this, we drove to Secaucus—which also became a nightmare as there was a 10-mile backup on the Garden State Parkway southbound due to an accident in the Metropark area. A traffic information sign on I-78 forecast a 53 minute trip to the Turnpike from Berkeley Heights, which would normally take 20 minutes, so we diverted to parallel Route 22, which lost us about 20 minutes due to heavy local traffic. Then, as we approached the Turnpike, we realized what was happening: Parkway traffic abandoned the GSP for I-78 east and then to the Turnpike south— there was a consequent tie-up at the Newark Airport interchange as we skirmished with that traffic flow. We caught a NJT train scheduled to leave Secaucus at 5:59, only to have it crawl through the tunnel with frequent stops, finally arriving NYP about 6:30. We got to the opera at 6:45, breathing hard due to anxiety, not much ahead of the 7:00 curtain and no time for the dinner we had anticipated.

Coming home, when the performance ended at 11:30, we got to NYP at 11:50—just having missed the 11:49 to Dover. But since we were headed to Secaucus, we picked up the following Northeast Corridor (NEC) train at 11:52 and were home by 12:50—and due to NJT’s abominably all-stops-plus-transfer slow service to Gladstone, still 12 minutes ahead of the last Gladstone, 11:35 from NYP and due in Basking Ridge at 1:02.

I see why housing prices are so high in Manhattan—you can’t get there from anywhere else, anymore.

It is difficult and painful to face this fact, but there is no way to escape the reality that management at New Jersey Transit acts like they do not care about us as riders. When they held hearings on the plan to raise fares and cut service, hundreds of riders objected and complained about the service they were getting, and NJT managers did not yield the slightest concession in the results.

It is even worse than that. Without even a warning, NJT eliminated the last trains to Dover and Gladstone, and the last train from Dover to New York, on Monday through Friday nights. If you depend on NJT for your basic mobility, your curfew is now at least 45 minutes earlier than it was until the middle of September. Shore communities south of Long Branch now have a curfew that is one hour and 42 minutes earlier than before. The last trains on the Boonton Line west of Montclair State and the Pascack Valley Line are considerably earlier than they used to be, but people along those two lines were warned that the cut was coming. The rest of us were not.

We do not know what NJT senior managers are thinking, but we know how they are acting. They are acting as if mobility for everyone who depends on transit is a gift, that they can bestow or withdraw at their sole discretion. We may believe that Americans, including transit riders, have a right to travel, but NJT believes they can eliminate some of our mobility and spring the new restrictions on us as an unpleasant surprise.

Sen. Nicholas Scuteri, a Democrat from Union County, is planning to introduce a bill that would require NJT to give the public notice and a hearing whenever they plan to cut service in the future. In theory, at least, this is a good idea. Whether the Legislature would pass it and whether Gov. Christie would sign it remain to be seen. That does not change the fact that it is the right thing to do.

We are reaching out to elected officials to join us in fighting this latest atrocity from New Jersey Transit. We need all the help we can get. Please contact us and contact your elected officials about this issue. We are also fighting to have representatives of the riding public appointed to the NJT Board of Directors. The current members do not ride transit regularly, so they do not know what riders need or want. Every vote cast by the NJT Board since April, 2003 has been unanimous. We do not see this as an appropriate governance model when the mobility of transit riders is at stake. Please join us in the campaign to get genuine transit riders’ advocates appointed to the NJT Board and to ensure that we receive notice when we could lose our transit in the future. If you can join us in the struggle now, that will improve the likelihood that we will continue to be here to fight for you during a future crisis.

Community transportation, a vital lifeline for New Jersey’s senior and disabled residents is in a serious funding crisis. Until 2008, casino taxes financed a large part of it, so that our seniors and disabled residents could get essential transportation for medical care and other necessary travel. Since 2008, the Casino Revenue Fund has dropped by more than 50%, with no signs that it will ever rebound.

In their heyday, casinos couldn’t open fast enough in Atlantic City. Now, due to competition from adjoining states, the few that are left are barely holding on, and several have closed in the past few years. This downward trend will likely continue. The glimmer of Internet gambling appears to be a “flash in the pan” with only a small portion of the amount raised providing a one-shot infusion of cash.

To provide the necessary funding, our Community transportation systems need a stable source of funding. It’s up to the Governor and legislature to fix this NOW. I encourage ALL coalition members and anyone reading this to contact both the Governor and their state senators and Assemblymen and urge them to find a stable source of funding for our Community transportation systems. Write a letter and make a phone call.

Your chairman, David Peter Alan, and I shall be meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22) to discuss this matter in the near future. But it rests with ALL of us who share an interest in this important matter to act now to ensure we have Community transportation in the future for all New Jersey’s residents.

At our July meeting, the Coalition unanimously approved a resolution calling for stable, secure and sufficient funding for community transportation and for NJT operations. Even if the Transportation Trust Fund is renewed, it will not include operating funds for NJT or community transportation. The Coalition is a pace-setter in calling for funding for both of these vital transportation needs.

Stephen E. Thorpe is Technical Director of the Lackawanna Coalition and Chair of the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) at NJT. Coalition Chair David Peter Alan is also First Vice-Chair of SCDRTAC.