Report from the Chair, Mar./Apr. 2014

Everybody knows that New York’s Penn Station (NYP) is crowded with commuters during peak-commuting hours, and we have a way to reduce demand for those scarce seats that will not require any capital investment.  We call on New Jersey Transit to restore reduced “off-peak” rail fares, and to implement fare policies that will make it less expensive to go to New York through Hoboken Terminal.

Commissioner James S. Simpson has called for the restoration of off-peak rail fares several times, and we strongly agree.  As the official representative of our riders and our communities, we continue to request a meaningful opportunity to participate in decision-making about these fare policies.

We objected strenuously when NJT eliminated off-peak rail fares in 2010, a change that removed an incentive for riders to travel at times when there is enough train and station capacity to accommodate them easily.  The next fare increase could come soon, and it will provide an opportunity to switch to a fare structure that will promote efficient use of our rail system.  It would not be good for our riders, or for NJT, if the current fare policies continue.  One important step toward restoring a discounted off-peak rail fare is to refrain from raising off-peak fares when peak-hour and commuter fares are increased.  The last fare increase was high for commuters and peak-hour riders: 25%.  It was massive and unprecedented for off-peak rail riders: 47% and as high as 64% for some fare zones.

Circumstances have changed since the current fares were implemented.  When the off-peak fares were killed in 2010, NJT was apparently encouraging riders to go to NYP at peak commuting hours, which would support the massive spending required to build the deep-cavern terminal that would have been a part of the former ARC Project.  Now that the project has been cancelled, it is necessary to reverse that policy and encourage riders either to ride at off-peak hours or to go to Hoboken instead of NYP.

Off-peak fares will make rail more competitive with automobile use when traffic is not excessive, and will also induce some riders to take the train when there is available capacity.  So will lower Hoboken fares, which will make it less expensive for riders to commute to Manhattan through Hoboken and on PATH trains, compared to going through NYP.  A combined NJT-PATH fare would also help this effort, if PATH would agree to it.  Hoboken Terminal is underutilized, so it makes sense to encourage riders to go there.

The Lackawanna Coalition calls on NJT to restore a significant discount for off-peak rail riders, and we suggest the historic 25% discount.  We also suggest that NJT adopt New York’s practice of a one-way off-peak fare, which is simpler than a confusing off-peak round-trip fare.  In addition, we note that Newark Penn Station riders can ride to Hoboken for the same fare as they pay for Newark.  We call on NJT to extend this policy to Broad Street Station riders, too.  If NJT implements a fare structure that encourages people to ride trains at “off-peak” hours or commute to Hoboken, it will reduce the pressure on NYP and reduce the amount of capital expenditure that will be needed to keep it viable for many years into the future.  Implementing these suggestions could save billions of dollars!