I don’t mean to come across as overly cynically about the whole PATH train saga that’s unfolded since 11 p.m. on Saturday, December 26th. I have numerous friends in Jersey City and Hoboken who were very upset that Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had even pondered cutting overnight service to Manhattan. But the announcement today by the New Jersey legislature that the Port Authority will not cut PATH service is being greeted as a grand victory when it is ultimately just the end of a political saga orchestrated by Christie and Cuomo to take attention away from the fact that they are against real and legislated reform at the Port Authority.
The big news came early on Wednesday morning when, after over two weeks of hand-wringing, the New Jersey Legislative Democrats announced victory. The Garden State’s Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto had secured assurances that PATH is “tabling indefinitely” any plans to scale back overnight PATH service. “Port Authority reform was never supposed to be about cutting vital rail services for hard-working residents,” Prieto, who represents Hudson and Bergen Counties, said in a statement. “This was a bad idea from the start and I’m glad to see it set aside. I thank Chairman Degnan for his cooperation and look forward to focusing on actual reform efforts.”
Since this morning, the coverage has been positively gloating, and for Jersey City residents, rightly so. But as numerous pieces claimed that the “plan to cut overnight PATH service” was now off the table, it seemed to be me to be a story that had overshadowed the news. As I’ve said before, the PATH cuts weren’t the story. The idea appeared as a three-paragraph entry in a massive report with various ideas to reform Port Authority. It wasn’t designed to be implemented, but it was designed to steal headlines. (That is, as I wrote, part of Christie’s M.O. in running a story.)
Some of the news pieces that stemmed from the New Jersey announcement noted how far-fetched the PATH cut proposal was. Larry Higgs spoke with numerous New Jersey transit advocates who all admitted the idea was dead in the water, and Port Authority officials essentially told Higgs as much. Matt Chaban in The Times noted how the PATH train idea distracts from the governors’ vetoes. That’s an important point too as it’s unclear if New Jersey or New York will try to override these vetoes to enact reforms at Port Authority with teeth. While Christie and Cuomo’s report may contain some good ideas, without legislation, the promises are empty ones.
Ultimately, though, the Port Authority sort of hedged even as the PATH cuts remain dead for now. In his letter announcing the withdrawal [pdf], PA Chairman John Degnan said that the PA has “tabled” the issue and would consult with local officials and the public before enacting any such cuts. It at least keeps the story alive and the door open for cuts at some point. Meanwhile, as the news cycle has ended with regards to PATH, Christie and Cuomo had turn their backs on real reform without further legislative action. While New Jersey residents certainly won, so too did politicians who had even more to lose from Port Authority reform.