Archive for New Jersey Transit
For New Jersey Transit, Thursday was, in its own pathetic way, a big day. Meeting for the time in months, the agency’s board finally filled its executive director vacancy — a spot left open since Ronnie Hakim decamped for New York City Transit — by appointing Steve Santoro, an accomplished project manager who may be in over his head, to lead the beleaguered agency. Santoro refused to commit to being available for press inquiries and stated in the obvious in his introductory remarks. “There are certainly challenges that we need to face going forward,” he said.
To say that it is an understatement would itself be an understatement. New Jersey Transit reeling from the recent crash in Hoboken, has come under intense federal scrutiny for recent safety lapses, and must find a way out of its current doldrums. With riders facing the strain of bad service and ever-increasing fares, it’s a nearly impossible task, and that’s thanks to the man at top — Gov. Chris Christie.
It’s no secret that I don’t believe Christie to be a friend of transit. It’s a remarkable charge for a governor of New Jersey, a state that wouldn’t exist in its current form without transit. With so many residents bound for jobs in New York City and a river serving as an imposing geographic barrier, New Jersey Transit’s buses and trains (along with ferries and the Port Authority’s PATH system) provide key lifelines, but Christie has denied New Jersey Transit state funding for years. He also recently engaged in a political showdown over the gas tax that became a back-burner issue as he stumped for Trump until the Hoboken crash made a solution a necessity.
That’s only recent history. We know he canceled the ARC Tunnel six years ago and never spent time or effort identifying or funding a replacement. We know ARC would have been nearing an opening date by now, and we know that Christie canceled ARC over spurious funding claims and not, as he tried to argue in hindsight, over concerns over the deep-cavern tunnel under Macy’s. He put that argument forward only because he knew it would win over New Jersey’s transit advocates who hated Alt-G and were willing to overlook the potentially damaging decision by Christie.
But New Jersey’s transit problem isn’t limited to my re-litigating the ARC Tunnel cancelation for the umpteenth time. Rather, we turn to The Times for a lengthy piece on New Jersey Transit’s current crisis. Some highlights:
The result can be felt by commuters daily. So far this year, the railroad has racked up at least 125 major train delays, about one every two days. Its record for punctuality is declining, and its trains are breaking down more often — evidence that maintenance is suffering…
A decade ago, New Jersey Transit was laying the groundwork for robust growth. While ridership has indeed boomed — nearly 20 percent more passengers have flooded the system in the past seven years — the railroad has failed to make the investments in infrastructure needed to meet the rising demand or to simply provide reliable service.
Today, its trains break down about every 85,000 miles, a sharp decline from 120,000 miles between breakdowns four years ago. The region’s two other large commuter rail systems, the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, are twice as reliable: Their trains travel more than 200,000 miles between breakdowns. New Jersey Transit also reported more major mechanical failures: 213 in 2014, compared with 89 for the Long Island Rail Road and 169 for Metro-North…
Today’s grim picture is a far cry from the recent past, when major investments by the agency helped to fuel a real estate boom in New Jersey. Three initiatives — Midtown Direct in 1996, the Montclair Connection in 2002 and Secaucus Junction in 2003 — increased the value of homes near lines with improved service by $23,000 on average, according to a 2010 report by the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group. All together, the projects raised home values by $11 billion…
Under the Christie administration, the agency’s finances have been dealt a blow. The direct state subsidy to its operating budget plummeted to $33 million last year from $348 million in 2009, according to the agency’s financial reports.
With delays frequent and state support short, NJ Transit has raised fares by around 30% since the start of the Christie administration, and as some New Jersey residents told The Times, the constant pressure is starting to erode resident comfort. “The railroad’s falling reputation,” The Times states, “some fear, could push people out of the state and turn others off from living there.”
So that seems to be the current end-game. New Jersey Transit service has degraded to the point where people are considering and following through on moves to other New York City suburbs with better transit access to their jobs. It’s a cautionary tale for New Jersey and one that should serve as a wake-up call to Christie’s eventually successor. The region’s economic health depends on a healthy New Jersey Transit, and right now, the Garden State has a ways to go.
As New Jersey Transit gears up to reopen Hoboken for some trains on Monday and the agency prepares for its first board meeting in months, the National Transportation Safety Board has issued the first of what will be many reports on the recent train crash. The initial press release is simply a bullet point list of facts the NTSB has discerned from data recorders and videos of the crash. We know the train was going 21 mph when it collided with the bumper. We know the train had been going 8 mph approximately 38 seconds before the crash, and we know the throttled shifted from idle to 4. The NTSB has not yet provided any analysis, and it is premature to speculate on the causes of the crash yet. I’ll have more as we know more.
Now, the services advisories for this weekend’s subway trips:
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between 96 St and Wakefield-241 St. Take 45 trains and free shuttle buses instead. Free express and local shuttle buses provide alternate service between 96 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Transfer between 4/5 trains and free shuttle buses at 149 St-Grand Concourse.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, 3 service is suspended. Take 24 trains and free shuttle buses instead. 2 service operates between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and 96 St. 4 service operates all weekend between Woodlawn and New Lots Av, making local stops in Brooklyn. Free shuttle buses operate between 96 St and 148 St. Transfer between free shuttle buses and 2 trains at 96 St. Transfer between 2 and 4 trains at Nevins St or Franklin Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, 4 service operates to/from New Lots Av. 4 trains will run local in Brooklyn.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, making all 5 line station stops. Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, October 8 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, October 9, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, October 8 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, October 9, Main St-bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Willets Point.
From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, Main St-bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, A trains are suspended in both directions between 168 St and Inwood-207 St. Take 1 trains and free shuttle buses instead. 1 trains make nearby stops between 168 St and 207 St. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes: On Broadway, between 168 St and 207 St, making stops at 175 St, 181 St, 190 St, and Dyckman St, and also on Fort Washington Av, between 168 St and 190 St, making stops at 175 St and 181 St. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at 168 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, A trains run via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, A trains run local in both directions between 168 St and 145 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, C trains are suspended in both directions between 145 St and 168 St. Take the A instead.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, C trains run via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, Norwood-205 St bound D trains skip Bay 50 St and 25 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 7:00 a.m. Sunday, October 9, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, October 9 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from 71 Av to the 21 St-Queensbridge F station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, Manhattan-bound E trains skip Briarwood and 75 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood and 75 Av.
From 5:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, J trains are suspended in both directions between Hewes St and Broad St. Take 46f trains and/or free shuttle buses. For service to/from Manhattan, consider using ac or l via transfer at Broadway Junction.
From 6:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, M trains are suspended in both directions between Myrtle Av and Essex St. Take the J/L and/or free shuttle buses instead. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Hewes St and Essex St, stopping at Marcy Av. Transfer between J trains and buses at Hewes St. For direct service to/from Manhattan, use the L.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains run express from Astoria Blvd to Queensboro Plaza.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12:00 midnight Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from 71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 8 to 6:00 a.m. Monday, October 10, the 42 St Shuttle operates overnight.
It’s been a rough few days for New Jersey as the Garden State comes to grips with the fallout from Thursday’s fatal trash crash. Gov. Chris Christie, busy cavorting with the GOP presidential nominee, came home just quick enough to help implement an ex post quick fix to the state’s transportation funding crisis, and while no one knows if the New Jersey Transit train was speeding or by how much, the engineer claims to have no memory of last week’s incident. As the NTSB, it is a day of reckoning for New Jersey.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, in a clear case of political CYA, Gov. Christie had what many think may have been his “come to Jesus” moment over transportation funding, except it was a pyrrhic victory. Christie agreed to a 23-cent increase in the state’s gas tax to add billions of dollars to the state’s empty Transportation Trust Fund while New Jersey will cut its estate tax and sales tax. If this seems to be a regressive step, well, it is, but it was also high time for New Jersey to raise its gas tax. The state still features the cheapest gas around but now by a bit less than before. That the funding measure came amidst the fallout from a fatal crash speaks volumes about New Jersey’s transportation approach.
That is, in fact, the point Nicole Gelinas made in a piece earlier this week on the crash and funding agreement. New Jersey, she wrote, was not prepared to handle a disaster, and a disaster is what it got.
Would investment in better technology have averted Thursday’s crash? It’s impossible to know. New York and Amtrak aren’t flat broke like New Jersey is, but they’ve been slow, too, in rolling out automated-stop technology. Capital investments would give people a better day-to-day commute — and could avert a future disaster. New Jersey needs to fund about $5 billion out of the $20 billion cost of building a new tunnel across the Hudson River to do major repairs to the existing, century-old tunnel. But it has no idea where it’s going to get that money.
Just how bad are the decisions state officials have been making? New Jersey continues to squander the infrastructure money it does have on trifles and amusements. Last month, as the Bond Buyer reported, the state made plans to issue $1.2 billion in debt to fund a long-delayed “megamall” in East Rutherford.
Using scarce tax dollars to fund a mall made no sense in 2002, when the state launched the bizarre project, and it makes less sense today. Maybe, though, Christie and lawmakers can prod the mall’s owners to add an indoor miniature train to the planned indoor ski slope and water slide. At least, then, the state could say it’s working on some train project.
Meanwhile, as more information regarding New Jersey Transit has reached public eyes and ears this week, we have since learned what many have already known: The agency does not have a good safety record, and the Federal Railroad Administration has noticed numerous safety lapses in recent years. It is, as Bloomberg noted, a test of a beleaguered system that cannot meet passenger delay, one The Times noted suffers from “neglect and mismanagement.”
As the feds dig into the causes of this crash and service remains suspended into Hoboken, it seems that New Jersey Transit is on the abyss of a disaster. It has no leadership, and the board hasn’t held meetings in months. No one in Trenton seems to care, and Christie has over a year left in his tenure. The state’s next governor will have a headache, and one very important to the region, on his or her hands. Last week’s crash was illustrative of the problems; hopefully, it wasn’t a harbinger of worse things to come.
Updated: At least one person has dead and 108 are injured, including one critically, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced this afternoon, after a Pascack Valley line NJ Transit train derailed and crashed into the station in Hoboken during rush hour this morning. The FRA is heading to the scene to investigate, and witnesses say the train crashed through a wall into a crowded waiting area. Reports indicate that some passengers are still trapped in the wreckage, and casualty numbers may be higher. According to initial reports, the woman who died was not on the train but rather on the platform when the crash occurred.
According to those on the train who were uninjured, the train seemed to be going too fast as it entered the station, and images indicate that the train broke through a station wall, severely damaging the roof at Hoboken. NJ Transit is amidst an effort to install positive train control, a technology that can limit train speeds based on location, but the agency has not completed this work. Meanwhile, with New Jersey’s transportation trust fund out of money, work on most long-term capital projects has slowed or stopped completely, pending resolution of a debate in Trenton over the gas tax. That said, it’s not clear if PTC had a role to play in this tragic collision or if PTC could have averted it.
NBC News had more on the crash:
Preliminary reports suggest the crash involving train No. 1614 on the Pascack Valley Line was accidental or caused by operator error, according to four law enforcement officials, though they stress it is early in the investigation…It appeared the train went through a bumper stop at the end of the track. It came to a stop in a covered area between the station’s indoor waiting area and the platform. From above, chopper footage showed the glass arches atop the building crunched like an accordion over the platform.
Currently, all PATH service is suspended at Hoboken, and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail is not running into or out of Hoboken either. However, PATH service to Hoboken is expected to be restored by this evening’s rush hour. Additional buses were be added as well.
Images and video from the scene are coming through on Twitter and this is currently a developing story.
— Leon O (@monduras) September 29, 2016
My train just derailed and crashed into the Hoboken train station. Thankfully all I got was a crack to my head, please pray for the rest pic.twitter.com/DEm34qFSFI
— Laura (@rustysombrero) September 29, 2016
— Nick Delgado (@NickDelgadoTV) September 29, 2016
— Cristian Benavides (@cbenavidesT47) September 29, 2016
The details won’t come out until the New Jersey Transit union reserves information on the settlement, but trains will continue to run throughout the weekend and until at least 2019 as New Jersey Transit avoided a strike on Friday. The union and New Jersey Transit reached a deal late on Friday afternoon, and although Gov. Chris Christie called it a good deal for taxpayers and commuters, we won’t be able to pass judgment for a few days. But trains will run as scheduled, and all those contingency plans that were announced earlier this week will fall by the way side. Until next time.
But while New Jersey is spared some short-term labor pain, New York City has its weekend subway service changes to contend with. As always, these are from the MTA. If anything is wrong, take it up with them, and leave yourself a few extra minutes of travel time as you go about your weekends.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. 2 and 3 trains run local between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 3 service operates to/from New Lots Av all weekend, replacing the 4 in Brooklyn.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 3 instead. For service between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3 instead.
From 4:30 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended. Take the 2 or 4 and/or free shuttle buses. Free shuttle buses operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.
From 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 and/or 4. 5 shuttle trains operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 12, to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 36 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Forest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, R trains are suspended in both directions between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn. Take the N instead. R trains will run between Bay Ridge-95 St and 59 St.
When we first heard word of a looming New Jersey Transit fare hike — the first since 2010 but fifth since 2002 — initial reports indicated the raise could be as much as 25 percent. Now that the budget numbers are coming into view, that steep hike seems to be off the table, and fares may go up by only nine percent in the coming months. But the reprieve may be only temporary as a variety of factors are at work that could push NJ Transit fares even higher in coming years.
The Wall Street Journal broke news of the hike last night. The nine percent figure is designed to help close a budget gap of $80 million. Andrew Tangel reports:
NJ Transit is expected to propose a 9% fare increase as the operator of commuter trains, buses and light rail faces a budget shortfall, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The agency is expected to announce the proposed fare increase—its first in five years—along with potential service adjustments as soon as this week, this person said. Any fare increase would be subject to public hearings and an eventual vote by the agency’s board.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much individual fares for NJ Transit’s various systems might rise under the proposal. But the proposed increase is well below the last one, in 2010, when the agency raised fares by 22% on average. NJ Transit faced a $300 million budget gap then. This time there is an $80 million deficit to close…
NJ Transit officials have said they realize the previous increase was difficult for riders to stomach. This time, they have said, the aim is to keep any increase in the single digits as they try to close the gap in the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1. In recent weeks, NJ Transit officials have been looking to trim expenses across the agency, and said they had found about $40 million in savings. But the agency has faced rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs, and it remains in negotiations with unions representing its employees.
But that’s all short term. There are a pair of long-term issues that could affect New Jersey transit fares in the coming years. First, an annual subsidy of nearly $300 million from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority may end after next June, and second, due to a federal mandate that Amtrak run the Northeast Corridor like it a business, rent owed by New Jersey Transit to Amtrak may increase by around $20 million annually. If this worst-case scenario comes due, NJ Transit may have to hike fares by 30 percent to continue to maintain current service levels.
As I noted last month, this constant talk of NJ Transit fare hikes is in stark contrast to the fact that New Jersey’s gas tax hasn’t increased in a generation. For a state that, whether it admits it or not, relies so heavily on its rail network and can’t take more traffic on its clogged roads, this situation will quickly grow untenable. Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?
— Tri-State (@Tri_State) March 4, 2015
Although this site is largely focused on New York City transit, it’s hard to ignore New Jersey’s impact on the region. I don’t quite follow the daily ins and outs of New Jersey’s transportation scene as I do New York’s as that is a frustratingly Sisyphean, but as the state with the fifth greatest number of unlinked transit trips in the nation — and one that feeds directly into New York City — we can’t just ignore it under a more transit-friendly administration is in place. These days, we’re talking fare hikes.
The scandal of the week from the Garden State involves Exxon. The state had sued for over $8 billion in environmental damages, and the suit was headed to a damages determination when Gov. Chris Christie opted to settle for $225 million, cents on the dollars. From news stories to Op-Ed columns, The Times has covered this environmental and taxpayer scandal closely since breaking the story last week, and it’s worth paying attention here as it reverberates from a local to a national level. But that’s hardly the only story at play.
Yet again, New Jersey Transit is gearing up to raise its fares, and the hike — designed to cover an operating budget gap — could be by as much as 25 percent. Larry Higgs had the story:
NJ Transit commuters should brace themselves for possible fare hikes of 25 percent or more in addition to service cuts, a transit advocate warns, as the agency struggles to close an $80 million budget gap.
And while NJ Transit officials insist a fare increase would be lower than 2010’s fare hike and is on the table only as a “last resort,” the last time the agency faced an $80 million budget gap, in 1981, it jacked fares by 50 percent over three years and introduced significant service cutbacks. “It’s a safe assumption it will be greater than 25 percent by the amount of revenue needed to fill the hole,” said Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director. “The funding structure for NJ Transit is broken. What we need is a new funding structure.”
Other factors that could affect a fare increase include the cost to settle expired contracts with 20 unions, which make up more than 9,000 of NJ Transit’s 11,000 employees. Many of those contracts expired five and six years ago. However, any fare increase under consideration will include those contract costs, said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman. “We recognize the 2010 fare adjustment was a serious burden on customers,” Snyder said. “We would not repeat that level of adjustment, which was required because of years of refusing to make tough choices including retraining costs and adjusting fares to meet needs.”
New Jersey Transit, as we know, hasn’t been a paragon of a well-run transit agency. Their utter lack of emergency flood preparedness cost them a few hundred million dollars in damage due to Hurricane Sandy, and Gov. Christie’s decision to kill ARC without a potential replacement has saddled the agency with the same operations challenges it has faced for decades. The sources of the $80 million gap, as others have noted, are numerous and include raising costs and increased spending on labor. The fare hikes to cover this gap will be steep.
Meanwhile, it’s worthy pondering how and why New Jersey’s drivers get off so easily. Even as hundreds of millions of transit riders pass through the Garden State’s transit network, drivers haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the gas tax in 25 years. The imbalance affects us all as it leads to more cars on the road and less money to maintain or even expand the transit network. It’s a strange and uncomfortable situation that isn’t going to change any time soon.
It’s hard to say which transit agency has had a worse go of it lately. New Jersey Transit had some banner years in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy knocked out hundreds of millions of dollars of rolling stock and followed that up by being unable to cope with greater-than-expected crowds during the 2014 Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Metro-North has been plagued by derailments, collisions and deaths over the past 16 months. It’s not been a good look for either.
So it should come as no surprise then that a New Jersey Transit official who was given the boot, in part, over the agency’s response to Sandy has found a new home at Metro-North. Karen Rouse of The Record had the story:
NJ Transit’s former railroad chief, who was pushed out in March following two tumultuous years that included the flooding of nearly 400 rail cars and locomotives during Superstorm Sandy, has landed a job within New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Kevin O’Connor, the former vice-president of rail at NJ Transit, started April 10 as Metro-North Railroad’s new chief transportation officer, according to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for Metro-North, a division of the MTA that provides rail service in suburban New York and Connecticut…
O’Connor came under intense public scrutiny in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy flooded hundreds of NJ Transit rail cars and locomotives that had been left to sit in low-lying, flood prone rail yards. Documents and emails revealed that NJ Transit did not follow a plan to move the equipment to higher ground, and instead left the rail cars and locomotives in the vulnerable yards in Kearny and Hoboken as Sandy approached. The damage to the equipment was upwards of $120 million.
In February, the Christie Administration shook up NJ Transit, replacing former executive director Jim Weinstein with Ronnie Hakim – herself a onetime former special counsel at the MTA. Hakim dismissed O’Connor and Joyce Gallagher, NJ Transit’s former vice-president for bus operations, within weeks…
Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, in a written statement, expressed confidence in O’Connor. “I have known Kevin for decades and like many in the railroad industry, I have the utmost respect for his operational skills, his leadership and his management abilities,” said Giuletti, who took leadership of Metro-North in January. “He has 37 years of experience with Amtrak and NJ Transit, both of which are partners with Metro-North, and we will benefit from his long experience.”
O’Connor, according to Rouse, will replace John McNulty, a vice president at Metro-North, who is retiring this year.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen O’Connor’s name pop up in the ongoing coverage of New Jersey Transit’s response to Sandy. He repeatedly excused planning that left expensive rolling stock in flood zones and shortly after Sandy, got into a war of words with some of the agency’s critics over NJ Transit’s seemingly inept response to the storm. Yet, transit is incestuous in the northeast, and O’Connor, a few weeks after getting ousted from the Garden State, has landed with New York’s troubled agency. Maybe it’s a fit for both, but it’s certainly reasonable to eye this development skeptically right now.
It’s been a rough decade for New Jersey Transit. What started out so promisingly with the ground-breaking for the ARC Tunnel has devolved into today’s mess. One of the busiest commuter rail lines in the nation and a key artery between New York and New Jersey has become bogged down in scandals surrounding inept responses to a hurricane and poorly planned Super Bowl contingencies. Even with a new leader, old stories continue to plague an agency trying to move forward against the tides of the past.
Earlier this week, Ronnie Hakim, a one-time MTA exec and former head of New Jersey’s Turnpike Authority, hosted her first board meeting as the new executive director of New Jersey Transit. After botched the Sandy prep and the Super Bowl logistics, Jim Weinstein finally lost his job at the end of February, and Hakim is the one in charge of picking up the pieces. So far, she’s saying the right things.
For the first month of her job, she’s conducting a listening tour. She’ll speak with riders and workers, with politicians and the public, about New Jersey Transit and ways to improve operations, customer service and morale. “The average service time of our employees is over 20 years” she said this week. “They are people who take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do — and that pride has been beaten on. It has been really difficult. It’s almost like you want to say, this is not ‘Groundhog Day,’ right? Every day is not about the past. Every day should be about the future, and my job is to refocus us on the future.”
Yet, the ghosts of problems past continue to haunt NJ Transit. Earlier this week, the New Jersey State Assembly held a hearing on the problems that arose on Super Bowl Sunday, and New Jersey Transit failed to show. John Wisniewski, head of the Garden State Assembly’s Transportation Committee, succinctly summarized why NJ Transit’s issues that day should be of major concern to the region’s transit advocates. “We saw what happened at the Super Bowl almost as an advertisement as to why you should not take the train,” he said.
NJ Transit officials plan to speak with the Assembly at some point this year, and the agency’s board is conducting its own review. There is no word as to when their findings will be released. Newspapers in New Jersey remain skeptical.
Meanwhile, even the ARC Tunnel, once New Jersey Transit’s savior, reared its zombie head this week in an extensive Times profile of Gov. Chris Christie’s relationship with the Port Authority:
Mr. Christie also used the agency to help him out of political jams. When he came into office, his state’s Transportation Trust Fund, traditionally financed by the gas tax, was nearly empty. But Mr. Christie, as a candidate, had pledged not to raise taxes. The Port Authority’s involvement in a major project, it turned out, presented a perfect solution.
In 2010, Mr. Christie canceled construction on a planned railroad tunnel under the Hudson River that would have eased congestion for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, and used $1.8 billion that the Port Authority had planned to spend on it to fill the trust fund.
This isn’t really anything we didn’t know or at least surmise about the long lost ARC dollars. They never went to transit improvements, as Christie once said, and the governor’s claims that he was primarily concerned with cost overruns still rings semi-hollow. Yet, the fact that there is no ARC Tunnel, that Gateway is decades away, that New Jersey Transit is stuck with the century-old pair of tracks leading to New York City will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future.
So Hakim takes over an agency whose ship needs righting. Hopefully, she’s up for the job, but it’s a thankless one without much support for her own bosses. Is there a clear way forward for New Jersey Transit? We’ll find out soon enough.
As a new year dawns, it’s become an annual tradition these days for commuter rail lines in New York City to announce record ridership numbers and continuing growth. Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit have seen numbers not matched since the age of the automobile dawned, and with congestion in the region worsening and gas prices rising, this is a trend with upward growth that shows no signs of slacking off.
Along with higher ridership comes more crowded trains. We’ve seen this in the subways, and commuter rail passengers who are on packed trains every day live through it as well. It is starting to become a problem and one, at that, with no easy solution. Jim O’Grady at WNYC has the story, railroad by railroad:
Riders like Wadler wonder why the railroads don’t simply add more trains. The answer is limited track space. Long Island Railroad has nine branches that converge on a three-track bottleneck beneath the East River that it shares with freight and Amtrak trains. Railroad president Helena Williams says most of those trips end at Penn Station, where track space is at a premium. “We only have so many opportunities to put trains through our system and into Penn Station,” she told WNYC during an interview at the MTA’s Midtown headquarters…
Metro-North has six fewer branch lines and more rail yard space than Long Island Railroad. But it, too, has short platforms and is bursting with passengers, especially on the New Haven Line. Metro-North would like to add double-decker trains, which carry more people and are used by commuter lines around the country, including the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. But spokesman Aaron Donovan says the issue is not enough headroom—for the trains…
New Jersey Transit has dozens of double-decker trains that fit through tunnels under the Hudson River. The problem is the number of tunnels: two. Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder says those two tunnels carry all of the Amtrak and commuter train traffic between Manhattan and points west.
O’Grady’s piece drills down on each railroad’s challenges, and we know that New York City is constrained in that Manhattan is an island. But while the situation is dire, there is some faint glimmer of hope for certain commuters. First, East Side Access may eventually open, bringing more riders on the LIRR and better distributing them throughout the city. The Penn Station Access plan could follow which would help Metro-North. New Jersey Transit, though, in the ARC-less present, is relying on Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel to remove some trains from the Hudson River bottleneck, and it’s not clear when, if ever, that tunnel will become a reality.
We can wring our hands over ARC and the missed opportunities, and we should be worried that few in Albany and Trenton are actively seeking a solution to this capacity problem. We should discuss through-running at Penn Station to bolster capacity as well. But because of geography, politics and economics, these capacity concerns represent a problem that won’t soon disappear.