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.

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April Bus Changes in Hudson, Passaic Counties

First of all, apologies for taking an extending hiatus from writing things here.

Now- to the important stuff.  Every January, April,  July and September,  NJ Transit adjusts its bus schedules.  This April was another opportunity for the agency to reduce service on unproductive routes with declining ridership, and beef up service where there is overcrowding.

This time around, most of the schedule changes focuses on Passaic and Hudson County.  Below is NJT’s official announcement about the changes.  Note rush-hour service reductions on routes like the 190 from Paterson, the 84 in Jersey City/Union City,  and 125 from Journal Square that compete with jitney buses. It looks like NJT is making a strategic reduction in those markets, allowing passengers to ride with their for-profit competitors.

Some changes didn’t make it into the main announcement.  On the 175 from Ridgewood to the George Washington Bridge, Sunday service is being cut from an hourly headway to a bus every 70 minutes.  Likewise, weekend service is being degraded on the 188 from West New York to GWB. NJ is also adding express service on commuter lines to Passaic County, including 1 additional trip on the 193, which also didn’t make the list.

 

Bus Route No. 64 – Weekdays:  Trip times will be adjusted in the PM Peak after 6:00 PM for better distribution of seats and to alleviate overcrowding.

Bus Route No. 68 – Weekdays:  PM trip times in the early part of the PM peak will be adjusted for better distribution of seats and to minimize waiting time between trips.  All PM trips will terminate at Route 9 Service Road at Throckmorton Lane. Old Bridge passengers will no longer need to request service to this point.

 

Bus Route No. 73 – Weekdays:  The 6:45 PM trip departing Penn Station will now operate via Florham Park to better serve our customers.

 

Bus Route No. 80 – Weekends:  To reflect a more accurate travel time, minor adjustments to trips have been made throughout the day, for most weekend service.

 

Bus Route No. 82 – Weekdays: Trips in the morning to Union City and the trip in the afternoon to Jersey City have been eliminated.

 

Bus Route No. 84 Weekdays: Adjustment and reduction of select weekday trips due to low ridership.

 

Bus Route No. 112 – Daily:  In order to enhance the customer experience and improve connectivity, minor adjustments to trip times have been made throughout the day, for all services.  Please pick up a new timetable or review schedules online for more information.

 

Bus Route No. 123 – Weekdays & Saturdays: Weekdays to Jersey City: Added 1 trip between 3 PM – 5 PM and 3 trips between 6:50 PM – 10:40 PM.

 

Saturdays: Increased frequency in the AM to operate every 20 minutes and added one late-night trip departing New York.

 

Bus Route No. 125 – Weekdays: Adjustment and reduction of AM weekday service in both directions between 6 AM – 9 AM.

 

Bus Route No 126 – Weekdays:  By customer request, a new 5:35 AM Clinton Street trip to the Port Authority Bus Terminal has been added, as well as, additional service beginning at Washington Street and 11th Street.

 

Bus Route No. 128 Weekdays: New weekday late-night schedule departing New York including conversion of one No. 128 trip to a No. 166 trip.

 

Bus Route No. 136 – Weekdays: For the ease and in response to customer requests service between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM will operate every 12 minutes. Jackson passengers should note that their trip will leave 2 minutes EARLIER at 5:48 PM Service between 3:30 PM and 5:00 PM will not change.

 

Bus Route No. 139 – Weekdays: The current 2:14 PM departure from Howell Garage will now originate at 1:50 PM from Lakewood giving passengers additional travel options.

 

Passengers using Old Bridge Park-Ride Express Service (serving both lots) Gate 324 in the PM Peak will now have earlier service starting at 3:51 PM.

 

Gate 325 passengers in the PM peak will have time adjustments and earlier service bypassing Old Bridge Park-Ride Lot.

 

Bus Route No. 144 Weekdays: Adjustment and reduction of one PM weekday trip departing New York.

 

Bus Route No.160 – Weekdays: Adjustment of weekday service in the TO Elmwood Park direction between 3 PM – 7 PM.

 

Bus Route No. 161 – Weekdays: Adjusted schedule and reduction of one AM trip TO New York.

 

Bus Route No. 162 – Weekdays: Weekday trips in the TO NY direction departing at 7:50 PM & 8:20 PM will now depart 10 minutes later at 8:00 PM & 8:30 PM.

 

Bus Route No.165 – Weekdays: Adjustment of weekday, PM express trips in the TO Westwood direction including one additional “R” Route 4 express trip.

 

Bus Route No. 166 – Weekdays: New weekday late-night schedule departing New York including conversion of one 128 trip to a 166 trip.

 

Bus Route No. 167 & 177 – Daily: Adjusted weekday schedule in the TO New York direction between 10 AM -11 AM.  The No. 177 “Friday Only” trip departing at 3:25 PM FROM New York will now depart every weekday.

 

Bus Route No. 168 – Weekdays: New weekday late-night schedule departing New York.

 

Bus Route Nos. 171, 175, 178, 181, 182, 186 & 188 – Daily: Schedule adjustments to improve on-time performance.

 

Bus Route No. 191 – Weekdays: Addition of new 4:30 PM weekday trip departing New York.

 

Bus Route No. 192/199 – Weekdays: Adjustment of select evening weekday rush hour trips departing New York.

 

Bus Route No. 194 Weekdays: Adjustment of A.M. weekday “X” Route 23 express service to New York. The 10:32 AM weekday trip departing Mothers Park & Ride to New York will now depart at 10:37 AM.

 

Bus Route No. 195 – Weekdays: The 4:20 PM trip will no longer serve Allwood.

 

Bus Route No. 308 – Weekends: Service operating Saturdays and Sundays.

 

Bus Route No. 320 – Weekdays: New early trip and schedule adjustments weekdays to New York between 5 AM – 6 AM.

 

Bus Route No. 409: On weekdays more trips will be adjusted to operate via the Country Club Plaza branch through Willingboro.

 

Bus Route No. 508: The weekday, Saturday and Sunday schedules will be adjusted to improve on time performance. Service via Absecon Manor will be reduced due to low ridership.

 

Bus Route No. 600: The 5:37 AM weekday trip from Forrestal Village will be adjusted to depart at 5:34 AM to improve connections at Princeton Junctions with the Northeast Corridor.

 

Bus Route No. 770 – Saturdays & Sundays: Schedule adjustments to improve on-time performance.

 

Bloomfield Avenue case study: Market segmentation for buses is bad

Market segmentation, in its broadest definition, is dividing the market into subsets of consumers who can be provided with individually tailored services.  This works for clothes.  This works for restaurants. But it does not work for buses.

I’ll illustrate the problem.bloomfield-avenue-in-montclair Take Bloomfield Avenue in Essex County-  it’s one of the area’s main roads, nearly a straight line between Caldwell, Montclair, Bloomfield, and Newark.

Currently, the Caldwell-Bloomfield stretch of Bloomfield Avenue is shared between the NJ Transit 29 and the Decamp 33.  NJ Transit takes local passengers, and Decamp takes only passengers to New York.

Caldwell is considering starting a commuter shuttle service that would take Bloomfield Avenue between Caldwell and Bay Street Station in Montclair. That means there would be 3 separate service on Bloomfield Avenue for 3 separate market segments:

  1. NJ Transit buses for local trips between Caldwell,  Newark, and everywhere in between
  2. Decamp buses for passengers heading to the Port Authority
  3. Caldwell shuttle for train commuters to New York

This is a problem because frequency is one of the most important elements of a good transit service.  3 separate buses along Bloomfield Avenue will mean that riders can only use a third of the buses to get from, say, Verona to Montclair. The local rider loses out in this situation.

In a classic market segmentation situation, the market segments each get a product that suits their needs.  But for transit, part of quality is quantity.  Having local riders to fewer buses means that the local bus service between points on Bloomfield Avenue is qualitatively and quantitatively worse.

Riders going to New York on Decamp have the most to gain from this arrangement. Since the Decamp Bus isn’t picking up and dropping off local riders, the speed the New York is marginally faster.  The local bus isn’t much use to them anyway.

The train commuters from Caldwell will still have a broader range of options than the other two market segments.  They still have the choice between the local NJ Transit bus and the Caldwell shuttle to take up Bloomfield Avenue.  If one is late, they can take the other.

The real losers in this situation are the parties who are paying for bus service.  By allowing local riders onto other bus services, there could be more transit options, but provided by fewer buses. Essentially, more money is being spend on bus service than needed. If Decamp dropped off at Bay Street Station, the Township of Caldwell might not need to pay for a municipal shuttle to the train station.

Now, let’s acknowledge that there’s are reasons things are this way. NJ Transit local bus service is not that good.  Even at rush hours, you can wait 15 minutes or more for a local bus down Bloomfield Avenue. They can be slow and not always on time.  Clearly, for whatever confluence of reasons, the 29 is an inadequate means for Caldwell commuters to reach Bay Street station.

Decamp also has its reasons for not taking local passengers. Decamp might not be interested in the low fares that come from local rides,  but the primary reason is that the company is actually prohibited from doing so. Its franchise restricts its buses from competing with NJ Transit. But this is an outdated way of thinking, a relic of the time when local suburban transit service were a profitable business. But if NJ Transit dropped this prohibition, it might mean better service for its passengers. Alternatively, local service on Decamp might mean that NJT could scale back its services with no ill effect.

In times of tight budgets and little expansion to the transit system, we should focus on making the best use out of the transit we already have. This calls for a little creativity from transit providers which these days, is sadly lacking.

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

NJT gets a lot of heat for steal rail cuts

An update on a previous story:

In September, NJ Transit put out new train schedules that reflected the service cuts that had been approved the month before.

For some of the service cuts, there was advance warning. Riders knew to expect that the last train of the evening on the Pascack Valley Live and outer Montclair-Boonton would be eliminated. Hearings were held.  News articles were written.

In addition to these, there was a surprise.  The last trains of the evening on the Morristown line and the Gladstone Branch were cut. Nobody outside the agency knew a thing until the schedules came out with about a week’s notice.

Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well.

Rider advocates at the Lackawanna Coalition protested that without advance notice, they had no way to object to the changes.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari has proposed legislation that would require the agency to notify riders of cuts like these.

Why wasn’t NJT required to tell anyone?  Service cuts like these are regulated by federal law, and there are certain criteria for what constitutes a “significant” service cut.  If the cut doesn’t meet that threshold, it’s merely considered an adjustment.

On the Pascack Valley and outer Montclair-Boonton lines, the overall service frequency is low. The PVL only has about 20 outbound trains a day, so cutting one train means cutting 5% of the total service, which would count as a “significant” change.

Even though cutting 3 trains on the Morris & Essex is a larger service change and affects more people, it represents a smaller percentage of the total schedule.  Because of this, NJT can legally get away with failing to warn people their train is being cancelled.

This is the same way NJT managed to eliminate the north end of the 56 bus is Elizabeth, because it was considered a portion of a line, and therefore not a significant change.

While it’s unpopular, transit agencies should be allowed to cancel bus routes with low ridership, or eliminate poorly-patronized trains.  By all means, they should be able to take actions that make the system more efficient.  But I think we can all agree that they should be required to tell people when this is happening.

New Sept. 13th rail schedules- NJT makes stealth cuts on the Morris & Essex, spares the Pascack Valley Line on Fridays

Every few months, NJT puts out new rail timetables.  This September’s feature a few service modifications, some good, some bad, and updated holiday service information.  Most significantly, the timetables are update to show higher fares.  Here are the service changes you can expect to see:

NJT announced in May that it planned to cut train 1601, the last train on the weekday schedule from Hoboken to Pascack Valley Line points.  The new schedules shows that the train was not cut entirely-  instead, it only runs Friday evenings, when ridership is somewhat higher.  To make up for the service cut Monday – Thursday, the last train of the day will be moved back, from 10:42pm to 11:13pm.

On the Montclair-Boonton Line, train 1043, a late night shuttle from MSU to Lake Hopatcong, will make its last run on Friday.

Seasonal North Jersey Coast Line trains stop running after this weekend as well, to return in summer 2016.  Several weekend and late night weekday shuttles from Long Branch to Bay Head will stop running, as well as weekend express trains.

The Port Jervis Line will see a new afternoon train departing Hoboken at 2:40, running express from Secaucus to Suffern.  Previously, this train only operated as an early getaway train before major holidays. It will now operate to Middletown every weekday, and to Port Jervis on early getaway service days. The new service is funded by Metro-North, not NJT.

In conjunction with this change, the 1:13 departure to Port Jervis from Hoboken has been moved to 12:42.

On the Morris & Essex Lines, late night service is being reduced. These cuts were not part of the summer hearings on service cuts.  No notice was given for these cuts. Train 6684, the 11:37pm train from Dover to New York, is eliminated.  The last inbound train from Dover is now at 10:32pm.

The last trains of the evening, the 12:32am from Hoboken to Gladstone, and the 1:19am train from New York to Dover, are also being eliminated, leaving to last train to Gladstone at 11:44pm and the last train to Dover at 12:34am. Unlike the cuts of the Pascack Valley Line, these trains will not continue to operate on Friday evenings.

This is what is known as a “stealth cut,” when the transit agency seeks to eliminate service without being noticed.

See the new schedules here until the 13th.

Dwell times- why your train is slow

In theory, commuter trains can go up to 90mph, but most of the time they stop every few minutes and never reach this speed. The amount of time a train spends at each stop isn’t much, but it adds up.

This is called “dwell time,” the total time that the train stops, or “dwells” in at a station.

Here’s some data sent to me by a friend. He recorded how long his train spent at each stop, from Upper Montclair to Newark.  The timer starts when the train comes to a full stop, and ends when the train begins moving again.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.50.21 AMAccording to the Montclair Boonton-Line schedule, The trip from Upper Montclair to Newark Broad Street takes anywhere from 24 to 27 minutes. If we subtract the dwell time for Upper Montclair and Newark, The train is not moving at all for 9 minutes 33 seconds inbound and 8 minutes 45 seconds outbound. That’s anywhere from 32% to 37% of the scheduled trip time from Upper Montclair to Newark.

Now granted, the data here is from rush hour trains and doesn’t include the section of the line between New York and Newark with fewer stops, so it’s not entirely representative.

Here’s the same information in graphical format:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 12.08.02 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 12.08.08 PM

You’ll notice that the stops that took the least time were Upper Montclair, Bay Street, and Watsessing. Watsessing and Upper Montclair took less time because they have lower ridership.  In Fall 2013 (the most recent available stats), Watsessing has 223 daily boardings and Upper Montclair had 519.

Bay Street, on the other hand, had 1,166 boardings, making it the busiest stop on the line.  This is interesting.  Bay Street is the busiest stop on the line yet it has one of the lowest dwell times. Continue reading