May rail changes bring better weekend service at North Elizabeth

This May, timetable changes on the NJ Transit rail system bring a pleasant surprise.  The big story, other than the opening of Wesmont Station, is the expansion of weekend train service at North Elizabeth on the Northeast Corridor Line.

North Elizabeth is one of the least-used stops on the NEC Line, with an average of 553 weekday passengers boarding at the stop in FY 2014.  Ridership is up, year-over-year. FY 2015 saw an average of 599 boardings at North Elizabeth, a nearly 10% increase. For comparison, during the same period total rail ridership increased by 2%.

Until recently, North Elizabeth saw only sporadic service on the weekends.  Most trains would speed past the station without stopping, and riders would have to make the hike over to Downtown Elizabeth to catch the train.  North Elizabeth will now have train service every 1-2 hours throughout the day on weekends.

What’s to account for the sudden boost in service?  It might be a recent transit-oriented development project called Station Commons, a 100-unit apartment building that just opened immediately adjacent to the station.

pic (2)

With a giant brownfield development site right across the street, development in the station area can only go up from here.

Hopefully, this is a microcosm of what is happening across New Jersey.  New developments are going in at formerly depressed neighborhoods near train stations: Harrison, Bloomfield, Orange, and the list goes on.

Other schedule changes are minor.  On the Main/Bergen Lines, some trains that terminated at Waldwick will now run only to Ridgewood, and other Ridgewood trains are being extended to Waldwick. Summer Coast Line expresses to the beach are back for the season, as well as more frequent Bay Head shuttles. And a few evening trains are adding new stops on the inner Morris and Essex Lines, offering more frequent service for local suburb-to-suburb riders on that line.

Advertisements

Coach USA/Suburban Transit raises local and commuter fares

Private transit operator Coach USA- a large holding company that owns properties like Suburban Transit in the Middlesex/Mercer County area, ONE Bus is Essex County, and Short Line in Bergen County – raised its fares effective May 2nd, 2016.

Recent NJ Transit hikes have captured public attention, and outrage, but in the mean time, Coach USA has been gradually increasing its fares as well,  slowly, but steadily.

Take a look at the 1-zone fares for ONE Bus (Orange-Newark-Elizabeth):

  • April 2015: $1.55
  • October 2015: $1.60
  • May 2016: $1.65

Before that, fares were $1.40, a rate that had not changed since 2008.  It seems like this is a programmed increase of five cents each month.  Are there further increases scheduled for Fall 2016?  Since they are a private company, we don’t know.

Down in Central NJ, Suburban Transit commuter fares are also rising by about 4%.

Here’s a rundown of Princeton-New York fares:

  • April 2011: $13.55
  • April 2012: $13.95
  • April 2013: $14.35
  • May 2015: $14.80
  • May 2016: $15.25

Monthly passes have also increased at a corresponding rate. Fares are still competitive with NJ Transit rail fares.

Fortunately, service levels are staying at about the level they were before.

 

 

 

Wesmont station opens, but what will happen to Garfield?

This May, train schedules on the NJ Transit rail system are changing on May 15th.  Service changes on all of the lines will be discussed in a later post, but this one will discuss the biggest piece of news, the opening of the new Wesmont station on the Bergen County Line (BCL). The new station is in Wood-Ridge, located between Garfield station and Rutherford station. It is being developed to serve an enormous infill development site on what used to be a large industrial complex.  This is a classic transit-oriented development project.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 10.51.01 AM

njtransit.com

The opening of the new station has been a long time in the making, having been initially scheduled for completion in 2011.  The station itself was completed a few months ago, but the agency delayed opening the facility until the 215-space parking lot could be completed. For a station meant to serve residents of a local apartment complex, many of whom would probably walk, delaying train service on account of parking needs alone is a questionable decision.

Most, but not all BCL trains will stop at Wesmont.  There has been speculation that Wesmont would eventually come to serve as a replacement for Garfield station, which though located in a dense urban area, has short platforms and lacks parking.  Garfield station is not served by all trains on the BCL, and it is arguable that its low ridership is caused by low service levels, not the other way around. Garfield has the lowest ridership out of all stations on the Main and Bergen County Lines, with 169 boardings per day as of Q3 2014.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 11.09.43 AM.png

Garfield Station, via Google Maps

When service at a low-ridership station is reduced, ridership begins to further decline in a vicious circle.  This is exactly what happened at Great Notch station on the Montclair-Boonton Line.  After the enormous Montclair State University station, and its parking garage, opened in 2004, NJT began cutting back service at Great Notch.  At the end, Great Notch was down to 2 trains and 9 passengers per day. The station permanently closed in 2010.

Personally, I do not foresee any substitution effects between Garfield and Wesmont.  No significant number of Garfield riders is likely to switch to Wesmont, as I see it.  Let me explain:

  • Garfield has no parking, so train riders who need a place to park are already going to other stations.  More of them might use Wesmont, but that doesn’t mean they will stop using Garfield.
  • Garfield and Wesmont stations are far apart enough that practically no one lives in walking distance of both of them. No one that walks to Garfield now will be enticed to walk to Wesmont.
  • Anyone using a bus to reach the train won’t go to Wesmont station, as there is no bus service that passes by there.

What may happen is that there will be a substitution effect between Wesmont and Wood-Ridge station on the Pascack Valley Line. Those two stations are just over a mile apart, and neighborhood residents have to cross Route 17 to reach Wood-Ridge station.

To close, here’s a picture of the TOD project, Avalon at Wesmont Station

 

 

 

Camden-Glassboro rail plan is going nowhere

From the Press of Atlantic City:

The plan announced by then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine in May 2009 involves an 18-mile light rail line between Camden and Glassboro. The Camden-Glassboro Line would someday be extended 19 miles from Glassboro to Millville in the center of Cumberland County.

Construction of the estimated $1.6 billion project between just Camden and Glassboro was to begin this year and be finished in time for passenger service to start in 2019, according to Delaware River Port Authority documents. That schedule is no longer viable.

The Camden-Glassboro Line is one of many transit proposals from the early 2000s that have seen little if any progress.