The biggest train-related story since our last issue of the Railgram has to be the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. We note that the problem was compounded by a slow EPA response that allowed the corporation’s request to burn off toxic chemicals—possibly necessary to avoid an uncontrolled explosion, but done in such a way that the burn was incomplete and unknown chemicals, possibly dioxins, were released. Worse, the rather delayed air-quality monitoring did not include testing for the deadly dioxins, but only for their precursors.
Sadly, this just further damages the public image of railroads, building on railroad workers’ almost-strike of early December of last year. The president shut down the strike, in the interest of avoiding supply-chain issues, but it was surely a controversy that damaged the public image of rail.
An interesting article about Montgomery County, Maryland, and its increasing bus service and employer subsidies to entice more peopl eout of their cars:
Note that they have 30-minute frequency, adjust service based on automatic rider counts about 3 times annually, and just increased the subsidies to employers, who pay $25/employee to enter the program, which saves more than 10 times that amount for each employee. Is there something that NJ Transit can learn from this?
“I threw the report in the garbage,” said NJ state transportation commissioner and NJ Transit board chairman Jim Simpson, referring to a report for NJ Transit rail operations saying that off-peak discounts for rail riders were not viable “for capacity reasons,” according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 13). “I don’t think the report was worth the paper it was written on, so I’ve asked folks to go back to the drawing board,” Simpson continued. The report was written by staff under Kevin O’Connor, who reportedly has been forced out as general manager of NJT’s rail operations; O’Connor was not at the NJT board meeting on March 12, at which Simpson made his comments.
An extensive report on radio station WNYC (January 17) by Andrea Bernstein explores a number of events involving Port Authority budgets instigated by the New Jersey appointees on the Port Authority, notably Bill Baroni and David Wildstein.
The report says that the decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to kill the ARC trans-Hudson rail tunnel several years ago was not done for the reasons Christie outlined, which involved a sudden realization that the tunnel might cost New Jersey far more than budgeted. Instead, it was done to enable critical road repairs to be done with the $2 billion Port Authority contribution to ARC, notably for repairs to the Pulaski Skyway. The connection to Port Authority facilities was justified by saying that the Skyway improvements would aid traffic flow to the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Diverting the $2 billion allowed Gov. Christie to avoid an increase in the state gasoline tax, which the report said would be political suicide for a potential Republican presidential candidate.
Other projects using Port Authority funds include
the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which the report said was a condition by New Jersey to agree to World Trade Center reconstruction;
purchase of a military terminal in Bayonne, which the report says allowed the city of Bayonne to avoid bankruptcy that would have been politically devastating to the state and its officials; and
reconstruction of the Harrison PATH station. The report hinted that all of these projects were instrumental in securing endorsement of Gov. Christie’s re-election bid by the mayors involved.
The report also asserted that toll increases approved by the Port Authority were said to be needed for World Trade Center reconstruction, but that the real reason was the additional projects needed by New Jersey to avoid gas tax increases. Further, the report said that the scenario of the toll increases was that Gov. Christie’s representatives at the Port Authority planned the increases and the Authority announced them, Govs. Christie and Cuomo of New York then professed outrage at the size of the increases, and the Port Authority then scaled them back. The report says all of this was an orchestrated rollout, which allowed the governors to say that there were no tax increases, as tolls, they contended, are not taxes. The Port Authority increases were not confined to motorists, as PATH rapid-transit fares were also increased.
There was also reporting on past testimony in Washington by Mr. Baroni before the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding the toll increases. Baroni sidestepped answering Lautenberg’s questions by instead raising the fact that Lautenberg for years had a free EZ-Pass for use on Port Authority facilities, and citing the number of times the Senator had used it. Baroni also had a thick black binder he was reading from, which the WNYC report suggested was full of other “dirt” to use against Sen. Lautenberg.
The MetroCard has become a popular way to use New York City’s transit services; in fact, for most riders, it’s the only practical way to ride subways and buses. Riders pay in advance to load cards with money, then use it up as they make trips. But what happens to money that is still on cards that are lost or expire? New York City Transit gets to keep it, and it’s counted as fare revenue; in 2012, the revenue from expiring cards reached a peak of $95 million, according to reporting by Sam Roberts in The New York Times (January 17). MetroCards typically expire about two years from purchase; after that time, they cannot be redeemed or the amount transferred to new cards. The amount recorded in 2012 was unusually large because many riders purchased cards before a 2010 fare increase. Once the cards expire, do they have sentimental value? Not much, apparently: according to the article a lot of 100 used, expired, “worthless” cards can be bought on eBay for $13.75.
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.
New Jersey Transit is offering a special ticket, good on NJT bus, rail, light rail and Access-Link paratransit. It is called the Super-Pass and offers unlimited transportation for eight days from Monday, Jan. 27 through Monday, Feb. 3. It costs $50 and can be purchased only on NJT’s website, www.njtransit.com, through Jan. 14. This one-time pass is less expensive than almost all weekly fares; far less expensive for a long distance. The regular weekly fare between Dover and New York is $124. Currently, only monthly rail commuters are entitled to use a bus for an equivalent distance.
We commend NJT on offering an all-inclusive ticket, good for use on all of their transportation modes. Now that we know that it is possible to do so, we call on NJT to allow riders to use any mode of transit they offer, on a regular basis. All riders, whether they are weekly or monthly commuters, or ride on single-trip tickets, should have access to every mode of transit on NJT for the fare they pay.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to scale back fare and toll increases of 7.5% previously planned for 2015 and 2017; now the increases will still occur, but are likely to be only about 4%, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (November 14). The proposed new increases, which still need approval by the MTA’s board, are made possible by improved financial outlook and increasing revenues both from passengers and from real estate. It’s not clear how the reduced increases would actually be implemented; the base fare on the subway and bus system is $2.50, and can be increased only in amounts of 25¢, so any increase in the base fare would be at least 10%. However, the MTA has many other areas in which to increase fares and bridge and tunnel tolls.
The new one-ride fare on PATH is $2.50, effective October 1. PATH fares for a single ride are thus equal to NYC subway and bus fares, although the PATH system is much smaller than New York City’s. Free transfers to and from buses—a feature of the city system— are not included, nor are free transfers between PATH and city lines. Ten-trip tickets for 10, 20, and 40 PATH rides cost $1.90 per ride; unlimited-ride passes are priced at $7.50 for one day, $26 for 7 days, and $80 for 30 days; these passes can be used only once each 18 minutes at a given station, so multiple people can’t use the same pass at the same time. Senior fares (65 and older) remain at $1.00, but a special, personalized PATH smart card is required to secure this rate. New York Metrocards are also usable to ride PATH; the Metrocard must have per-ride value on it, and $2.50 will be deducted for each ride. PATH machines also issue MetroCards, but as in the machines on NYC subway stations, a new MetroCard will incur a $1 charge in addition to any value added.
On July 11, NJ Transit’s Board approved an operating budget of $1.94 billion that envisions no fare increase this year, making more than 3 years since the agency last increased fares. The last increase, in May, 2010, averaged a whopping 22%t, including an average of 25% for heavy-rail riders—but this average hides an incredible increase of 47% for occasional riders, due to the elimination at that time of the off-peak round-trip discount ticket, plus the 25% increase on one-way tickets that occasional riders are now forced to use. Executive Director Jim Weinstein said the no-increase streak is likely to continue, according to reporting by Jim Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (July 12). Weinstein noted that while a number of labor agreements need to be negotiated, “there’s no apparent reason why we should have to raise fares in the foreseeable future.”
The Board also approved a $1.23 billion capital budget that includes a new rail station and track loop at North Brunswick on the Northeast Corridor, begins work on replacement of the Portal drawbridge over the Hackensack River on the approach to New York Penn Station, and funds reconstruction work at Newark Penn Station and at the Elizabeth station.
Cynics note that there are seldom fare increases in a gubernatorial election year, such as 2013, but often they seem to happen after such elections.