Competition Sprouts up in Kendall Park!

It’s a rare moment when there is a new entrant into the commuter bus industry. In fact, there is probably a once-in-a-decade moment or less.

A new company, OurBus, is running a low-cost, express commuter bus from the Kendall Park Park and Ride, putting it in direct competition with incumbent carrier Suburban Transit on Route 27.

Planet Princeton has the scoop:

OurBus offers a one-seat ride from the Kendall Park Roller Skating Rink lot on Route 27 to New York, making one other stop in Franklin Township along the way. The bus makes four stops in the city, arriving at Times Square at 8:15 a.m. and then stopping at Bryant Park, Grand Central and Madison Park.

The one-way fare is $8. A round-trip ticket is $14. A monthly pass is $220.

For those who are keeping track, a one-way between the same point via Suburban Transit costs $13 and a monthly is a steep $410.  That means OurBus is charging almost half what Suburban is asking.  Yikes.

Let’s also look at the running time.  A standard run on the Suburban Transit 100 (their main line) takes a painful 1 hour 35 minutes.  This is mostly because the route tuns local from Route 1, through the Tower Center/Nielson Plaza Park and Ride, Downtown New Brunswick, and Route 27 all the way to Princeton.

OurBus accomplishes the same run in 1 hour 20 minutes.  Remember, that’s to Times Square.  Suburban goes to the Port Authority.  That incremental avenue block from 8th to 7th probably takes 5 minutes in its own right, so OurBus is probably getting to the Port Authority area in around 1 hour 15.  After that, OurBus heads to Grand Central and Madison Square Park, according to the article.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it seem that Suburban has implemented a new express trip that skips the Tower Center stop, leaving at 6:40am, a mere 15 minutes before the OurBus departs.  Is Suburban trying to keep OurBus from expanding its market share?  It looks like it.  Unfortunately neither publishes ridership statistics so only time will tell.

This brings us to a question:  What is OurBus? Let’s take a look at their website.

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Planet Princeton says they are a “technology platform that allows commuters to create their own demand-based bus routes that pick up near their homes and drop off close to their workplaces. A proprietary algorithm creates routes that stop near commuters’ homes and places of work. The platform then works with charter coach companies to serve their needs.”

Working with charter coach companies may explain how they can keep the ticket price so low.  And the demand-based approach is probably why they launches with so little media coverage.  This is the first I’m hearing about it.

It looks like a smarter way of creating commuter bus routes.  Crowdsourcing for transit, if you will. This is smart.  Transit demand is so scattered in most markets that it’s hard to do this, but for CBD-bound daily commuters, departure times and locations are highly static.  Some people have been making the same commute for 40 years. It would be harder to crowdsource a local transit route with 10-minute service.  That has a lot of walk up customers and that kind of demand is hard to crowdsource.

They may be on to something.

 

Summer bus changes go into effect today

Summer bus schedule changes are fairly predictable.  Extra service to and from beach towns.  Supplementary service to various high schools is discontinued until fall.

Only a few major developments here.  The biggest is a restructuring of the 119 bus schedule, which goes through Bayonne, Journal Square, and Jersey City Heights to the Port Authority.

Formerly ending service around 10pm, this bus will now run overnight, providing a good way home to Jersey City and Bayonne late-shift workers, partygoers, etc.  There seems to have been some lobbying on the part of the Jersey City Mayor’s office for the reschedule.

The change also seems to be cost-neutral. Savings were achieved by tweaks to the parallel #10 schedule on Kennedy Boulevard, and by making midday service run less often.  Also, more running time has been added to the schedule so buses will be more reliable.

How else is the NJ bus network changing?  A few minor branches and route deviations are being removed, like an off-hours deviation of the 88 via Central Avenue in Jersey City, that only ran during midday hours, and very occasionally at best.

Also being eliminated are branch lines to industrial areas of Paterson and Totowa.  These areas will still be a few blocks from regular bus service and the routes will see no change in frequency.  Ridership on these segments was probably low (or nonexistent).

There are also minor boosts in frequency on the 166 and 197.

But who is to say that we won’t see major service cuts down the road?  NJ Transit is currently facing a $46 million budget gap for next year.  And add to that the fact (which recently came to light thanks to the Tri State Transportation Campaign) that over the past few years, NJ Transit has kept itself afloat by transferring $5 billion from its capital budget to pay for operating expenses.

Read the details of the new schedules, straight from the horse’s mouth:

No. 10 Daily: Select late night/overnight trips have been replaced with the No. 119 line and schedule adjustments to improve on-time performance.

No.  67 Daily:  Service will be operated to and from Seaside Park.  67X trip times will be adjusted in coordination with the added No. 319 service to and from Newark and Jersey City.

No. 79 Sundays:  At the request of our customers, service to Parsippany will now depart Penn Station at 8:34 AM and at 9:34 AM.

No. 83 Daily: Minor schedule adjustments in coordination with completion of construction of Little Ferry Circle.

No. 88 Weekdays & Saturdays:
  Central Avenue “C” service in both directions will no longer operate via Central Avenue. Use the No. 119 for alternate service.

No. 111 Weekdays:  An additional trip departing Jersey Gardens at 9:16 PM has been added to the schedule.

Attention No. 115 Customers:  Service to and from Union City has been discontinued. Customers traveling between Union City and Jersey Gardens should use the No. 111 line.  Please pick up a new schedule, or visit the website online for details, as trip times may have changed by a few minutes.

No. 119 Weekdays & Saturdays: New schedule including late night/overnight service and schedule adjustments to improve on-time performance.

No. 122 Weekdays: Adjusted schedule in the TO Secaucus direction.

No. 126 Weekdays:  Beginning May 22nd, select ‘Friday Only’ early getaway service will operate from the Port Authority Bus Terminal through the summer.

No. 127 Weekdays:
Adjusted first three “X” express trips in the AM to depart 5 minutes earlier.

No. 130 Friday:  Trip leaving New York at 2:15 PM to Lakewood will continue to operate through the summer to improve travel options.

No. 133 Weekdays:  Trip leaving the Rotary Senior Center at 7:05 AM will leave 5 minutes LATER at 7:10 AM.  Times between Rt. 516 at Morganville Road and New York will remain the same. No new timetable will be issued for this change.

No. 137 Daily:  Service will be added to and from Seaside Park. Weekend service will be extended to Island Beach State Park.

  • Saturday and Sunday:  Shuttle service to and from Seaside Park will be discontinued.
  • Weekdays:  AM parkway express trips from Toms River will be adjusted to serve passenger needs, please check timetable carefully as all trips may not operate Monday thru Friday.

No. 139 Friday:  Trip leaving New York at 3:00 PM to Union Hill Park&Ride Lot will continue to operate through the Summer to improve travel options.

No. 156 Weekdays: Adjustments made in the TO Englewood Cliffs direction during the PM rush hours.

Nos. 158, 163T, 164B&E, 165P, 166T&X, 177, 192 Local & Express,
193, 324 Fridays:
Extra summer-season Friday getaway service has been added.

No. 159 Weekdays: Adjustments made in the TO Fort Lee direction to the PM local and (X) express trips.

No. 163 Weekdays: Adjustments made to the Union City service in both directions.

No. 165 Weekdays: Minor schedule adjustments to reflect the completion of the Little Ferry Circle construction.

No. 166 Daily: Minor schedule adjustments, including one new midday weekday trip to New York. Saturday “T” Turnpike Express service has been increased to operate every 30 minutes.

No. 168 Weekdays: Minor schedule adjustments to reflect the completion of the Little Ferry Circle construction.

No. 167 & 177 Daily: Minor schedule adjustments and the No. 321 has replaced No. 167 midday service to Vince Lombardi Park & Ride.

No. 190 Weekdays: Adjustments made to the Union City service in both directions. The 4:35 PM “P” trip departing New York will now operate as an “E” trip.

No. 197 Daily: The 12:30 AM trip departing New York will now serve the Willowbrook Shoppers’ Stop and a 10:51 AM weekday trip departing Pompton Lakes has been added for the summer season.

No. 308 will operate daily service.  Please consult njtransit.com for times and days of operation.

No. 316: New service from University City in Philadelphia to Wildwood/Cape May plus the 316 will also stop at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden and the Gloucester Premium Outlets in Gloucester Township.  Service via Broad Street at Snyder Street in Philadelphia will be discontinued due to low ridership.  Special excursion round trip fares from Philadelphia to Wildwood/Cape May will be available again this summer.

No. 319: Service between New York, Toms River, and Atlantic City will be increased for the summerwith four trips operating daily south of Atlantic City via Ocean City, Ocean View, Sea Isle, Avalon, Stone Harbor, North Wildwood, Wildwood, Rio Grande, and Cape May.

No. 320 Weekdays: New early trip and schedule adjustments to New York between 5 AM and 6:30 AM. New trip and schedule adjustments between 2:15 PM and 3:10 PM in the TO Harmon Meadow direction.

No. 321 Weekdays: The 4 midday No. 167 trips in both directions will now operate as No. 321 trips. All trips departing New York to Vince Lombardi Park & Ride will now leave from Gate 318.

No. 400: Select trips will be adjusted to provide daily serve via the new bus stop on Premium Outlet Drive in front of the Gloucester Premium Outlets in Gloucester Township.

Nos. 403, 452: Direct service to Ferry Avenue PATCO will be discontinued due to changes to the road serving the station.   Customers will still be able to access the station via the bus stops on Haddon Avenue at Copewood Street.

No. 510: the service will be adjusted to operate via Route 9 to provide faster service between Wildwood and Cape May.

No. 601: Running time will be adjusted daily to improve on time performance.

No. 704 Weekdays: Service has been eliminated in the Bunker Hill section of Paterson (East 6th St. at 5th Avenue timepoint). See No. 722 line for alternative service.

No. 712 Weekdays: Service has been eliminated in the Totowa Industrial Area (at the Gordon Dr. at King Road timepoint) at 4:48 PM in the TO Hackensack direction and the 7:38 AM and 7:55 AM in the TO Willowbrook Mall direction.

No. 872 Weekdays: New timepoint has been added to the schedule for Wyndham Worldwide in the Mack Cali Business Campus.

Nos. 801, 802, and 805: Selected trips will be adjusted to improve connections with the Northeast Corridor.

Nos. 811, 818: The timepoint for the Brunswick Square Mall will be change to the new location at the Mall Entrance next to Starplex Cinema.

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.

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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.

The three eras of train ticket collection: How far we’ve come

A pleased rider recently tweeted that NJ Transit’s mobile ticketing “is the best thing since sliced bread.”  Sliced bread is largely overrated, but we should still appreciate the huge strides the agency has made in ticketing in the past decade.

Ticket technology has actually changed twice in that period-  First we saw the movement away from cash transactions on board the train to ticket machines.  Now those ticket machines are becoming less important as people can buy their own ticket on a smartphone.

The paper ticket era:

NJTransitPunchTickets-web

Remember these?

In the long forgotten days before 2008 or so, at most stations you could get on a train, and the conductor would collect your fare, punch a series of holes into a strip of paper, and that was your ticket. This was largely the same way train tickets were sold 100 years ago.

It was a good system.  Buying a ticket was relatively simple for first-time riders. There was no need to buy the ticket before getting on the train. It was quick.

While it worked for passengers, this system has significant downsides for NJ Transit.  It took up a lot of the conductors’ time, and labor is expensive.  On crowded trains, the conductors and ticket collectors simply couldn’t reach everyone.  Some people got by without their fare ever being collected.

The ticket vending machine era:

The era of on-train ticket sales ended when NJT started installing electronic ticket vending machines. Within a few years, TVMs were installed at virtually every station.  Passengers would be required to buy their ticket from the machine before boarding, and then present it to the conductor on the train.

It became easier for NJ Transit to collect fares, and the workload for conductors went down. Most of this work was offloaded onto the passengers.  It was now the passenger’s responsibility to find the ticket machine and figure out how to pay.  For many riders, this meant arriving a few minutNew_NJT_TVMes earlier at the station, and potentially waiting in line to buy a ticket.

This was especially inconveniencing for riders at stations where the ticket machines were located only on one platform, and crossing between the platforms isn’t always quick. Buying a ticket on the train is still an option, but is subject to a $5 surcharge.

There were benefits for passengers too.  For the first time, it was possible to pay with debit or credit cards at most stations. It was also possible to buy 10-trip and weekly/monthly passes at outlying stations.

The mobile app era:

In 2013, NJ Transit launched its first mobile ticketing pilot, with an app called MyTix. Passengers img_5193could buy a ticket on their smartphone, and display it to the conductor. No paper required.

The app spread to other rail lines, and then light rail and bus routes.  It now has 600,000 users. Mobile ticketing gives passengers all of the advantages of the ticket vending machine but without the downsides of waiting in line for the machine, or having to arrive at the station early. Now, you can buy your ticket when you get on the train, just like in the paper ticket era. Continue reading

Should the PATH be on the MTA’s subway map?

In his proposal called Subway NY NJ, Stewart Mader criticizes NYCMTA’s well-known subway map, saying that it conceals the PATH, a useful rapid transit service connecting Manhattan and New Jersey.

PATH is Incorrectly Represented

PATH is a rapid-transit system. It operates 24/7, provides frequent service with short headways (time between trains), accepts the same pay-per-ride MetroCard as the Subway for fare payment, and has six underground stations in Manhattan (four with direct physical connections to the New York City Subway). The current fleet of PATH train cars (PA5) are an updated version of the Subway cars (R142A) used on the 4 and 6 trains. However, PATH is represented on the Subway Map using the visual style labeled “Commuter rail service” in the map’s key: pale blue “railroad track” lines, square station markers, and small, lightweight text labels. This appears to be an incorrect application of the MTA visual style guide, and doesn’t effectively communicate to Subway riders that PATH is also a rapid-transit service.

Here’s the edit he’s proposing:

SubwayNYNJ-detail

The PATH would be displayed as a light blue line in the same style as MTA subway lines. The proposal was well received. Except by the MTA. A spokesperson quickly shot down the idea,

Showing other regional services like PATH in greater detail is a good use for a regional transit map, similar to the one put together for the Super Bowl. However, our map is a subway map, and its primary purpose is to serve as a guide to the subway system. We put a lot of thought into how to reduce the visual distractions and clutter on the map—we don’t even show our own railroads in much detail—but this proposal would add to those non-subway distractions.

We already show PATH where it meets the subway system, although without seeming to imply nonexistent free transfers at the Sixth Avenue stations, and making PATH more prominent would require shrinking the subway portion of the map slightly to accommodate more of the New Jersey waterfront on the same size paper.

These arguments don’t hold up. As for shrinking the map, it is already geographically inaccurate.  Staten Island is in a shrunken inset in the corner. Manhattan is a chubby rectangle.

The spokesperson also says that showing the PATH on the map would imply that free transfers exist.  But the JFK AirTrain, a monorail service charging a $5 surcharge, is already on the map!  And guess who runs it?  Not MTA, but the Port Authority, the same guys who run the PATH. Continue reading

Crosswalks and Bus Stops

Last week, Streetsblog LA did a very interesting analysis on the spacing of crosswalks on major thoroughfares in Los Angeles and San Francisco, finding that the crosswalks on Vermont, Sunset and Van Nuys Boulevards are much farther spaced out than Van Ness and Geary.

There are gaps of up to a quarter mile between crosswalks on major boulevards in LA.  This is a problem for pedestrian safety,  neighborhood connectivity, etc. It’s hard to walk when you have to go two blocks out of your way just to cross the street. Just as distressing, the boulevards of Los Angeles often lack safe crossing points at bus stops.  Let’s take a look at three bus stops in Central LA:

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This is the bus stop at Pico and Windsor, on the #30.  The red arrows indicate where each stop is and its direction.  The nearest crosswalks are entirely out of the shot, at Crenshaw to the east and West Boulevard to the west.  Each is about 1/5 of a mile away, for a total of .4 miles between crosswalks.

This is a low-density commercial and residential strip. Bus passengers have to cross two lanes of traffic in each direction, a center turn lane, and two parking lanes (seven lanes total)

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Sunset Boulevard and Bates Ave, near Sunset Junction/Los Feliz.   The street is even harder to cross here because of bie lanes in each direction.  The nearest crosswalks are at Fountain, .1 miles , or a block, to the north, and at Sanborn, .2 miles or three blocks to the south.  Total distance between crosswalks is .3 miles or 4 blocks. Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 7.16.18 PM

Vermont and 35th Street, a stop on the #204. Vermont is one of Los Angeles’ busiest bus corridors.  The nearest crosswalks are at Jefferson, one block to the north, or at 36th Place, two blocks to the south.  The total distance between crosswalks is .25 miles.

What’s interesting here is that there’s a planted median separating these two bus stops.  There’s no expectation that anyone getting off a bus is going to cross the street here, even without a crosswalk.

If bus passengers can’t cross the street to reach their destination from a given bus stop, that stop is practically useless to them.  Counterintuitively, it may be faster for a bus rider to board or disembark at a stop that is farther away from their destination because they can cross the street there.

Of course, this is a huge inconvenience and makes transit trips take longer than they should.  It’s safe to assume that the lack of crosswalks at every bus stop is suppressing transit ridership. What would it look like if bus passengers could cross the street safely at every stop?

On paper, I would not be surprised if these stops underperform in ridership.  Some day, the number crunchers at transit headquarters might propose closing the stop based on low ridership. This has happened before.

Poor crosswalk coverage isn’t just bad for pedestrians.  It’s also bad for transit.  This discrepancy is what happens when our city streets and transit system are run by different people.