NJ Transit: Truth in Advertising, Please!

NJ Transit is lying. I don’t say this because of dishonesty in their dealings, or the fact that their IT constantly claims that trains are running and on time when they are in fact not. No, this is dishonesty in advertising. They claim, prominently—in advertising, news releases, and elsewhere—the following lie: “NJ TRANSIT is the nation’s largest statewide public transportation system.” NJ Transit is of the nation, and it is the only statewide public transportation provider (though Rhode Island’s RIPTA does have statewide buses), so it is therefore the largest. The lie? It’s in that final word: system.

System, Oxford English, Definition 1: a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.

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NJ Transit is not a system. It does not work, it does not work together, and it does not coherently interconnect. Each component of NJ Transit, each rail line, each bus line, each light-rail line, works only as an independent entity, often scheduled in what seems to be Swiss precision to not connect; it seems like as often as possible, the wait times experienced by users are the longest it possibly could be.

If you are connecting between the M&E and the Newark Division, your “connection” to the light-rail system can almost make it faster to walk between Broad Street and Penn. At the Trenton Transit Center, the RiverLINE trains often arrive such that you can watch the New York train depart as you reach the bottom of the track stairs after rushing, out of breath, from the light rail station. Let’s not even get started on how that goes when connecting between trains and buses!

The goal, in today’s world of climate change, is for public transit to offer as reasonable an alternative to driving a car as possible. I grant that when I use public transit, I accept that it will take a little more time, and not get me quite as close to my destination as I can get when I drive. However, speaking as a motorist who can do that if I so choose, I will still use the system when the convenience of not having to actively engage in driving a car outweighs the inconvenience of a longer trip.

How can transit hope to provide for that if at every connection point in my trip I have to wait 29 minutes or 58 minutes for the next scheduled half-hourly or hourly “connecting” transportation? Why are logically connecting bus and train routes scheduled to misconnect by 2 minutes, when running the first just a few minutes earlier, or the next a few minutes later, would save 30 minutes or an hour from a passenger’s trip?

NJ Transit treats each of its components as independent parts, and then calls itself a system. To stop lying, it can do one of two things: it can stop calling itself a system, or it can start endeavoring to serve as a system. I would prefer the latter.

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