- Published: 25 April 2014
- Written by John Bobsin
Should the Port Authority be the operator of the PATH rapid transit system? “No,” says a report issued by the New York City-based watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission, which suggests that NJ Transit take over PATH. The story was reported by WNYC Radio and also on its Transportation Nation website. The report says PATH’s financing needs to be overhauled, saying that the “fares are unusually low” while there’s been substantial investment to modernize the PATH system. This results in a deficit projected at $387 million for this year. This will be covered by revenues from Port Authority bridge and tunnel tolls; the report notes that PATH “is the only transit system in the country that doesn’t have some general tax subsidy.” This, the report suggests, should change. And NJ Transit, the report says, would be a better fit to manage PATH, as it’s already in the transit business and could better integrate PATH with its other operations.
The report assertion that PATH fares are low is backed by its analysis that PATH riders have higher incomes than bus or New York subway riders, although the report also concedes that Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad riders have even higher incomes than do PATH riders.
The report says taking PATH out of Port Authority jurisdiction would allow the PA to concentrate on what the report says is its core mission: money-making activities such as airports, and even fund improvements such as a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.
There has so far been no reaction from either the Port Authority or NJ Transit regarding the proposal.
Read the complete story here on Transportation Nation.
- Published: 24 April 2014
- Written by John Bobsin
Stung by criticism about behind-the-scenes dealmaking, commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, April 23 took the unusual step of postponing decisions on two projects that had come under fire. The decision, reported by Shawn Boburg in The Record, reflected rare public disagreement among the agency's commissioners. One decision postponed involved renegotiation of a lease by NJ Transit of the park-and-ride lot in North Bergen; the other involved a proposal to guarantee loans for World Trade Center reconstruction. The proposal regarding the park-and-ride lot was to increase the rent paid by NJ Transit; the current rent is a nominal $1 per year, reduced in 2012 from over $900,000. That deal has come under fire as a conflict of interest for former Port Authority chair David Samson who at the time was reportedly also advising NJ Transit on how to maximize its profits from operating the lot. The postponement on the decision apparently is due to a lack of consensus on how much NJT will have to pay, not on the general idea of an increase. The World Trade Center loan guarantee postponement reflects criticism of the Port Authority's involvement in real estate as opposed to its primary mission of operating port and transportation infrastructure in the bi-state area, and of its relationship to developer Larry Silverstein.
The increased openness in decision-making at the Port Authority mirrors recent decisions by NJ Transit to improve transparency, including opening committee meetings to public access for the first time.
Read the complete story here.
- Published: 21 April 2014
- Written by Donald Winship
Public speaking; people fear it more than death, or heights, or confined spaces . But that very fact is part of its power: spending 5 minutes talking about an issue in front of NJT management and their Board of Directors shows that you really care about it – it’s far more impactful, and more productive, than venting frustration on your smartphone in 140 characters or less.
Don’t believe us? Back in 2010, alongside a massive fare increase, NJ Transit proposed to completely eliminate its WHEELS bus program. Most of the WHEELS busses were shuttles, but a few served as conventional bus service in underserved areas. Two of these, routes 890 and 891, were the only public transit in the city of Phillipsburg near the NJ/PA border. The nearest public hearing was nearly 50 miles away in Morristown, but a group of concerned riders chartered a bus and appeared at that hearing in force. They made compelling statements and focused on the same simple message: we need these busses. Five years later, the 890 and 891 are still running.
These meetings present a unique opportunity to reach the levers of power, with the NJT Board of Directors, NJT Management, and members of the press all in the same room at the same time.
- Published: 19 April 2014
- Written by Donald Winship
Nobody likes old trains. They look dated, they have funny smells, and the ride quality is rough over even the best track. But old trains can be refurbished to nearly the same comfort level as brand new cars – and at a fraction of the cost. In this new era of constrained budgets, NJ Transit needs to get the best bang for its buck. Yet over the last few years they’ve spent millions on new locomotives and cars, often to heavily customized designs, while idling lots of still serviceable older equipment. Without a strategic plan to justify these decisions, NJT has been thinking too much in the short term.
We are particularly concerned that the Arrow III Multiple-Unit cars will suffer the same fate. These silver-sided cars, while the oldest in the fleet, have a unique asset that is vitally important: acceleration. Each car has an electric motor underneath to pull its “weight” so to speak, which means that whether the train is very short or very long, acceleration is just as good. On lines like the M&E and Montclair-Boonton, where stops are often very close together, being able to get up to speed quickly can shorten schedules and help recover lost time after delays. That's why we want these cars fixed, not scrapped.
- Published: 17 April 2014
- Written by John Bobsin
NJ Transit suggests many options for motorists inconvenienced by the two-year shutdown of the northbound Pulaski Skyway, which began April 12. Full-page newspaper ads, such as appeared in the Star-Ledger on April 13, included a variety of bus and rail routes to reach destinations in Hoboken, Jersey City, and even Manhattan; NJT has similar publicity on its website. One logical route for motorists whose ultimate destination lies east of the Hudson would be NJT's frequent train service to New York's Penn Station, where subways, buses, and connecting railroads provide service to all points. But NJT's publicity completely ignored this option, and curious observers are wondering why. It could be that New York trains in peak hours are overcrowded and NJT was afraid that additional riders might cause an intolerable situation. It may also be that NJT has realized the advantage of promoting lesser-used routes, something that the Lackawanna Coalition has long advocated.
NJT's suggested options for Pulaski drivers include rail, bus, light rail, and PATH rapid transit options. Trains recently added to schedules are prominently promoted, including Morris & Essex Lines trains running between Summit and Hoboken, and an additional train recently restored from Bay Head on the North Jersey Coast Line, also to Hoboken -- this train had not run since Hurricane Sandy. NJT encourages riders to transfer from trains at either Hoboken or Newark Penn Station, using local buses, PATH trains, or ferries from Hoboken to Manhattan. Raritan Valley riders will have extra cars on peak trains, and are also told to transfer at Newark to local buses or PATH, but NJT trains to New York are not mentioned, nor are any trains on NJT's heavily used Northeast Corridor line -- all of which run to New York. Bus options include a new peak-hour-only express bus route (#95) on the Route 22 corridor, running from a Sears parking lot in Watchung to Newark Penn Station, where again, riders are told to transfer to local buses or PATH, not NJT trains. NJT also mentions a Suburban Transit route from the Haynes Avenue free park-and-ride lot near Newark Liberty International Airport; these buses cost just $2 for a trip to PATH stations in Jersey City (but these buses will have to compete with traffic diverted from the Pulaski Skyway). And NJT has enhanced off-peak and Saturday service on the #119 bus route from Bayonne to Jersey City and New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal, although it's not clear that this corridor would be affected by the Pulaski project.
The closing of the Pulaski Skyway generated much media attention on the first weekday of the closing, Monday, April 14. But feared traffic jams did not develop, leading to a "nonevent." However, traffic was expected to be lighter in the first week or two of the project, owing to spring school vacations. The true impact of the closing may not be apparent for a week or two.
NJT's suggested alternatives can be found on a link prominently displayed on its Web home page, www.njtransit.com; NJ Department of Transportation has a more comprehensive page on Pulaski alternatives at http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/roads/pulaski/transit.shtm.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that alternatives to travel to New York Penn Station need to be emphasized and promoted by NJ Transit, as service to New York Penn has reached capacity limits in peak hours. These alternatives particularly include service to Hoboken, which has been seriously reduced in recent years. More service to Hoboken is needed, and riders should be encouraged to travel via Hoboken by reducing fares to Hoboken compared to fares to New York .
- Published: 09 April 2014
- Written by John Bobsin
Newark Liberty International Airport's monorail system is showing its age, and it will shut down May 1 for a 75-day overhaul, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the transportation system, reported by Steve Strunsky in the Star-Ledger (April 9). The monorail is the only way to get from NJ Transit's airport station to the airport's terminals, so train service will also be suspended during the repair period. The repairs include fixes to the steel and epoxy running surface; the years of service have eroded 60 spots along the 6.3-mile system. Buses from airport terminals to Newark Penn Station will replace the monorail.
Read the complete story at:
- Published: 13 May 2013
- Written by John Bobsin
A month-long investigation by New York public radio station WNYC, New Jersey Public Radio, and the (Bergen) Record newspaper has resulted in extensive reporting questioning NJ Transit's response to Hurricane Sandy (which struck the region October 29, 2012). The report contrasts the extensive damage suffered by NJT in comparison with the generally minor damage to other transit systems, and attributes the damage to NJT's ignoring warnings both long before the storm and as the storm approached; bad decisions regarding storing equipment; and NJT's response to a public information request (nearly all of the reply was blacked out).
The report may be viewed here.
Author Kate Hinds was interviewed on WNYC's Brian Lehrer talk show Monday morning, May 13. The segment replayed NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein's testimony on NJT's Sandy response; Weinstein had said that the models that NJT used in forecasting hurricane damage predicted that the probability that the Meadows rail storage yard would not flood was 80-90%. This sparked pointed comments from host Brian Lehrer, who noted that 10-20% damage probability to billions of dollars in assets should have sparked immediate defensive action; Lehrer asked if you would get on an airplane if there was "only" a ten percent chance of a crash! Hinds noted that other agencies, such as Metro-North Railroad, used the same computer software to estimate storm impact, but seemed to have prepared their strategies in advance and did not input possibly faulty data into the software. A US Weather Service expert was brought in; he commented that the numbers used to predict the course of the storm, including its course and forward speed, were completely wrong. Hinds and Lehrer also discussed possible political impacts on NJT's actions. Hinds noted that planning for environmental disaster might not be a wise course in an organization that works for NJ Gov. Christie, who has slashed funding for environmental preparedness. She also noted that the relationship between NJT Director Weinstein and his boss, NJ Transportation Commissioner James Simpson was frosty: "They don't get along at all." Finally, she noted that while Gov. Christie has been getting high marks for the overall New Jersey response to the storm, there has been little public discussion of the experience of NJ Transit, which is part of Gov. Christie's responsibilities.
Following legal action by the Record, NJT did release part of their storm planning document. Apparently it was a very slim plan, nothing like the more comprehensive plans created by other railroads, which had much better experiences when Sandy struck.