As a public transportation agency, NJ Transit has an obligation to meet the needs of all riders, regardless of their mobility, visibility, or auditory challenges. Over time, we have reported on how well—or not well—they are providing services. We know that Access Link, which provides services to medical appointments and other destinations for those unable to independently ride scheduled transit, shadows NJ Transit bus lines—but what about those who can, with reasonable accommodation, navigate regular bus and train routes? One thing that is imperative for such individuals is good signage—where am I, where are elevators or restrooms, when is the next train coming, etc? Our inspection trip to Hackettstown showed the deficiency of such signage at Secaucus, where finding the elevator was a noted challenge. We also learned that NJT policies, which look good in theory, are not always put into practice—a number of our South Jersey members missed their connection when it came in on a different track than originally planned.
Given this perspective, I was pleased to see the NJ Transit Accessibility Forum—at least until they opened the public comment session. I have never seen so badly mangled technology. Time after time, a name was called, but no response came. When they got to me, I experienced the issue first-hand: “your mike is open,” they said, but Microsoft Teams was telling me, “only panellists” can open mikes. Nobody in attendance, disabled or not, needed a reminder of the frustration of dealing with NJ Transit. In addition, I have attended many a SCDRTAC meeting run by NJT staff on Microsoft Teams, quite effectively—so there is definitely staff knowledge; it was inexcusable to let tech problems overshadow the very good information that the various NJ Transit departments were presenting on their accessibility programs. I look forward to their bringing staff with Microsoft Teams expertise to run the next accessibility forum, expected this autumn.
As we ride, we note that trains and buses are equipped with electronic signs announcing the next station or stop—but too often, they simply say NJ Transit, or have a message about keeping feet off seats. Not much help, especially if station announcements are not broadcast over a PA system, or the system quality is poor. Maybe one will be able to read signs on the platform, but that is certainly not sufficient as a reliable means of identifying one’s location, especially for a rider unfamiliar with a rail line. Yes, I can look out a cloudy window and know that the old-fashioned blue station building means that I am in Hillsdale—but someone travelling for the first time would not.
Another issue that arises from time to time is that of disembarking at short platforms. Through long practice, I have learned to head for the last couple of cars when heading home to Woodcliff Lake—but SCDRTAC chairperson Phil Harrison was surprised on a recent trip to Chatham: he wrote to me,
“when arriving in Chatham [I] went to the front of the car, where I got on at Penn Station, only to find that I could not exit from that door. I ran down the aisle to the other door, and fortunately I made it in time to get off. I think that when the conductor takes your ticket and it is to Chatham and the passenger must use a particular door to exit that he should be informed then. I do not remember any heads up until I reached the wrong door and a passenger told me where to go. If he had not done that I would probably have had a nice trip to Madison or beyond.”
We do find passengers help each other, have been that advisor to others, but a proper system would ensure that such surprises don’t happen. We were pleased on a recent trip to Trenton to hear clear announcements of the need for passengers to go to a particular car to exit at certain stations—including the comment “don’t wait until the last minute”—which may be especially important on a dual-level car, with all the up and down stair requirements to move from car to car.