In today’s Wall Street Journal, Heather Haddon welcomes the unofficial end of summer with an article on everyone’s most infuriating transit topic: late buses. She delives into the New Jersey Transit data and finds that one out of nine buses departed Port Authority at least five minutes later than scheduled. It is an ongoing problem that has vexed transit planners but leads to one conclusion: New York City needs more space for buses.
Overall, NJ Transit buses are getting tardier. More than one in 10 NJ Transit buses—12%—left the Port Authority Bus Terminal more than five minutes late in the first six months of 2012, according to NJ Transit records viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The numbers illustrate a continuing frustration for NJ Transit as bus ridership has grown: A system that brings nearly 100,000 commuters into New York City each day is running out of space in the world’s busiest bus terminal. “We’re bursting at the seams,” said Joyce Gallagher, NJ Transit’s vice president and general manager of bus operations. “We’re using every conceivable ounce of space that we can.”
NJ Transit defines a late departure as leaving five minutes late or more, but commuters say they often have to wait up to an hour for a bus with a seat, as the vehicles fill to capacity quickly. They then must fight through Lincoln Tunnel traffic, which averages about 120,000 vehicles a day, including 10,000 buses.
“The bus will come, but you are wrapped around in so many lines that you have to catch the third or fourth bus,” said Douglas Panchal, a 33-year-old Little Ferry, N.J., resident who works in the banking industry. He said he has waited nearly two hours for a bus.
The problem doesn’t look to improve any time soon. New Jersey Transit competes with long-haul buses, airport shuttles and a variety of other vehicles or space at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and PA officials anticipate a spike in demand by nearly one third over the next 25 years. New Jersey Transit is searching for solutions, but the obvious one requires some amount of political planning.
Essentially, New York City and New Jersey need to rethink their trans-Hudson plans. Another rail tunnel would be ideal, but in the absence of that dream, the city needs to start pondering a new, larger bus terminal and lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel that are truly dedicated to buses. It isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t completely help wean us off fossil fuels. But as part of the transportation infrastructure, these improvements deserve a serious conversation before bus congestion and delays get much worse.