Metro-North Boosts Off-Peak, Weekend Schedules

On NJ Transit, schedules have been largely unchanged for years, with minor changes from time to time, and elimination of many off-peak trains to Hoboken the major event.  However, on many off-peak trains, particularly on weekends, traffic continues to build, often threatening to reach train capacity.  On New York’s Metro-North Railroad, off-peak traffic is also building, but Metro-North has the spare capacity into Grand Central Terminal to do something about it: substantial increases in off-peak service have been announced by M-N, with the first round coming on October 14, when 79 new trains per week will begin to operate: all off-peak weekdays and on weekends.  A further increase of 151 trains per weeks is slated for April 2013.  The new trains focus on the New Haven and Harlem lines of Metro-North; on the New Haven line, there will be 15 additional trains on weekdays, and 30 trains on weekends, and on the Harlem, 24 additional weekend trains.  In addition, on the NJT-operated Pascack Valley line, which originates in Spring Valley, N.Y., there will be a new round trip each weekday, plus a new Friday-afternoon-only pre-rush-hour “getaway” train.  Finally, existing trains that are overcrowded on the Grand Central lines will get additional cars to address the problem.

MTA says the new schedules will provide half-hourly service at weekend key-ridership hours at many stations on the Harlem and New Haven lines.  The railroad also announced a substantial schedule of holiday shoppers’ trains to reduce crowding during the preholiday period.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that off-peak and weekend service on the Morris & Essex lines needs study and improvement.  Many trains are close to capacity, with hapless riders forced to take long treks through the train in search of seats.  Service is hourly at best; as Metro-North has learned, such infrequent service discourages ridership.  NJ Transit’s policy of discouraging off-peak and weekend travel via the Hoboken Gateway has exacerbated the situation; weekend service to Hoboken runs on an unacceptable 2-hour headway (with an astonishing gap from 8 to 11 p.m. returning from Hoboken, just when those out for a “night on the town” need to return).  There seems to be an NJT unwritten policy to favor service at peak hours, when most riders travel at the lowest rates, and ignoring all others; new trains are seldom added, following the idea that “since we lose money overall, every new train will just increase our deficit.”   A more business-oriented approach is needed.

NJ Transit to Consider Bringing Back Off-Peak Discounts

This article is from the Star-Ledger, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition
NJ Transit officials are reconsidering an unpopular 2-year-old decision that ended discounts for rail passengers who ride during weekends and other off-peak hours.
Coupled with an average fare hike of 22% in May 2010, off-peak riders who lost their discounts have been paying nearly 50% more — 64% in the most extreme cases.

Lackawanna Coalition Calls on NJT to Pass Benefits of Budget Increase on to Riders

Gov. Clhris Christie has proposed an increase ofr $43.2 million in New Jersey Transit’s operating budget for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1st.  The Lackawanna Coallition has called for that money to be returned to riders.  The Coalition called for restoration of off-peak rail fares, which were eliminated last year, and for restoration of service on the Morris & Essex Line that was cut drastically in 2008.
The Coalition believes that a 25% discount for riding outside of peak commuter hours will encourage people to take the train when there is available capacity, and that lower fares for Hoboken riders, including at peak commuting hours, will encourage some customers to switch from New York to Hoboken commuting.  According to the Coalition statement, these policies could reduce the need for additional peak-hour capacity at Penn Station and make the most efficient use of the capacity of the entire system.

NJT Operating Budget to Increase

In a time of general belt-tightening, New Jersey Transit’s operating budget will increase.  The State’s budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1st, includes an increase of $43.2 million in operating funds for New Jersey Transit.
The operating side of the transit budget was cut last year, resulting in rail fare increases ranging from 25% to 64% and a rise in the local bus fare from $1.35 to $1.50.  Rail fares for trips taken outside peak commuting hours were raised 47% or more.  There were also service cuts, including elimination of several bus routes.  In recent years, service on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line was also cut in 2006 and, even more severely, in 2008.
The Lackawanna Coalition has called for some of the budget increase to be returned as a benefit to riders, in the form of restoration of service on the M&E that was eliminated in 2006 and 2008, and the return of “off-peak” rail fares.  Historically, fares for trips during mid-day and evening, and on week-ends, were 25% lower than single-trip fares during peak commuting hours.  The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North in New York still offer “off-peak” fares at a substantial discount.

NJT Will Honor Off-Peak Rail Tickets

New Jersey Transit will honor off-peak rail tickets sold before May 1st, the date when discounted off-peak rail fares were eliminated.  NJT had originally announced that tickets would no longer be accepted after May 23d, even though they were sold as “good until used” with no provision for refunds for tickets that had previously been purchased.  It appears that NJT told customers that off-peak rail tickets would become useless, in an effort to dissuade them from stocking up on the discounted tickets.  If you did stock up, it appears that you won the gamble.