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.

 

 

 

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.

Suppressed demand on the Hudson River ferries

The Hudson River ferries, unlike most of the transportation system in New Jersey, is privately run.  It’s main goal isn’t serving the public, or making sure the state’s transportation network runs smoothly.  It’s meant to make money.

New York Waterway charges high fares.  really high fares.  The cheapest ferry fare is $6, and they can cost more than $10 to ride, depending on the route.

What if the ferries weren’t operated for profit?  What if they had the same motivations as a transit agency- moving people at an affordable cost?

NJ Transit ferries would charge a significantly cheaper fare, close to what NJT charges for its trans-Hudson buses or trains. Let’s assume that the NJT ferry fare would be $3.50- equal to the bus fare from Jersey City/Hoboken/Weehawken to New York, instead of the $6-10 charged by New York Waterway.

Right now, high ferry fares are causing significant suppressed demand.  Many people are choosing not to take the ferry because of how expensive it is, even if it makes sense for their commutes.  Many people can’t afford a $270 dollar monthly ferry pass from Hoboken to Midtown, so they opt for the $98 dollar bus pass.

As of 2013 New York Waterway and its subsidiary BillyBey Ferry Comany carry about 30,000 passengers across the Hudson River on a good weekday.  What would the ridership be if fares were cut in half?  60,000? Or even more?

New York Waterway provides a luxury service, a comfortable travel option with plenty of seats and a great view. It’s even advertised as a high-class ride.  If ferries are to become a true mode of mass transportation (for the masses, not just the high-end market), some routes would have to be jettisoned.  For instance, the ferry between W. 39th Street and Lincoln Harbor has its New Jersey terminal inside a gated community. The service is for “tenants and guests only.”

Publicly operated ferries would probably run on fewer routes, but they would carry far more passengers.

Another advantage is that the ferries could be coordinated with other modes.  Right now, train and ferry schedules don’t always link up at Hoboken Terminal. The terminal was originally designed for train-to-ferry transfers, but currently most riders head straight to the PATH, jamming it at rush hour.  More of those people could be diverted to the ferry if there was a joint ticketing option.  If both services were operated by NJ Transit, a passenger could buy a ticket directly from, say, Ridgewood to Wall Street.  With the ever-increasing crowding at Penn Station, this would definitely be a good thing.

Not all transit modes are created equal.  In New Jersey, the commuter trains, PATH, and (most) buses are subsidized extensively.  They can rely on public moneys in order to provide more service and transport more people.  But the ferries can’t.  They are limited by the fares they take in and the investment requirements of private capital.

Public subsidy would open the Hudson River ferries to thousands and thousands of new riders. When a rail tunnel shuts down and the Port Authority becomes massively over capacity, this might be the solution we need.

It’s official- service cuts and fare hikes are coming

In an act that surprised no one, the NJ Transit board voted to approve the package of fare hikes and service cuts.

The proposed changes were endorsed without any modifications.  6 bus routes will be curtailed or eliminated, and two late night trains removed from the schedule.  Fares would increase all-around, except short-haul train fares between suburban points.

Even with the fare hike and service cuts, NJT’s financial troubles aren’t over.  The union that represents NJT’s locomotive engineers is threatening to strike over contract negotiations.  Currently, no NJT employees have a  contract and  annual raises are under the cost of living.

A mediation board has already been appointed.

NJ Transit has been underpaying its labor for years, and it can’t go on forever.  As it is, the agency couldn’t meet its existing obligations to its employees without a fair increase, so I am worried that another fare increase is not too far off in the future. Unless, of course, the state gives more funding for public transportation. Another gubernatorial election is coming soon, and Christie can’t stay forever.

The unfairness of zone fares

Unlike most bus systems in the county, NJ Transit riders pay a distance-based fare.  Bus routes are broken up into zones.  A one-zone ride costs $1.50, a two-zone ride 2.35, a three-zone ride $2.90, etc.

This has its advantages.  The amount that the passenger pays is supposed to correspond to the distance they travel, which is fair.  Riders who occupy their seat for a long time pay more,  and short-distance riders pay less.  Zone fares also help raise additional revenue for NJ Transit without raising fares for everyone.

While zone fares are supposed to correspond to distance traveled, they don’t always. This depends on where the fare zone boundary is.  A trip of as little of a few blocks can count as a two-zone fare, but you can travel miles and miles and pay for just one zone.

Between Jersey City and Bayonne, the fare boundary is at the city line. All of Bayonne lies within one fare zone, and all of Jersey City lies within another.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 12.16.57 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 12.16.01 PMAny trip that’s entirely within Jersey City costs $1.50, the one-zone fare.  This can be up to four miles.  Yet at the same time, any trip that crosses the city line will incur a 2-zone fare.  A trip of one mile from Bayonne to Jersey City, or even half a mile, will cost $2.35.

A one-mile trip shouldn’t cost more than a four-mile trip. Continue reading

Southern California’s commuter railroad will lower local fares by 60%

Metrolink, the commuter railroad in Los Angeles that has faced declining ridership for the past few years, has a new CEO:  Art Leahy, formerly of LA Metro.

One of his first actions will be to test out reduced fares. A pilot program on the Antelope Valley line will reduce all fares by 25% for 6 months.

Additionally, local fares will be steeply discounted.  Trips from one station to the next will cost $2, and a ride between stations two stops apart will cost $4.  This discount is only valid between 9am-2pm.

Previously, local fares have been prohibitively expensive.  A trip of as little as two miles can cost $5 on Metrolink, making its short-haul fares some of the highest in the country.  The national average local fare on commuter railroads is about $3

Part of the reason fares were set so high to discourage local riders has been to divert these riders to local buses.   In a region with many local transit operators, each has their own territory.Metrolink is a multi-county entity that is largely structured to serve long-distance trips. City and regional entities are meant to serve local trips.

These political separations have resulted in a climate where the agencies believe that a local rider “should” take the bus and not the train, because it’s not the railroad’s focus to carry local riders.  This is regardless of what mode of travel is actually best suited for the trip.

Time-wise, Metrolink is highly competitive in local markets.   The railroad’s Antelope Valley Line runs to Glendale and Burbank, two cities near Los Angeles.  Continue reading

NJ Transit’s bus service cuts make lot of sense

While commuters and politicians have been “lashing out” and “slamming” NJ Transit’s proposed 9% fare hike, there’s been a conspicuous absence of any public protest or objection to the agency’s proposed service reductions.

The simple reason for this is that NJ Transit is proposing eliminating trains and buses that are already practically empty.  And what’s more, all of the routes NJT proposes cutting have faster and more convenient alternatives.  What they’re doing makes all the sense in the world.

For example, the 655 bus.  When it was launched in 2012, it was branded as NJ Transit’s “Healthline” bus, connecting downtown Princeton to the Princeton University Hospital and suburban Plainsboro. Funding came from a variety of sources, including regional transportation funds and money from Princeton University

The route is expensive to run and sees very few passengers.  It has a farebox recovery rate of just 6%, compared to about 40-50% for the NJT system as a whole.  And it sees  4.3 passengers per hour, a negligible number that works out to just over 100 passengers a day.

Once this bus is gone, those 4.3 passengers an hour won’t be stranded. The outer portion of the route in Plainsboro is also served by NJ Transit’ route 600 to Trenton. The segment between Princeton and the hospital are connected by Princeton University’s Tiger Transit system, which is free. The hospital already provides free transportation to seniors and those with disabilities. With such a wealth of alternatives, it’s hard to see why this service existed in the first place.

Another route slated for elimination is the eastern portion of NJ Transit’s 872 bus in Morris county.  This is the only bus service cut proposed for North Jersey.  Currently the bus runs from Morristown to the Livingston Mall via Parsippany, but the portion of the route along Route 10 between Parsippany and Livingston would be cut.

The bus runs eight times a day in either direction, and the route carries about 100 passengers a day.  Route 10 is a corridor full of suburban shopping centers, but much of the route is already served by much more frequent service on the NJT 73 to Newark. Demand-response shuttle buses from EZ ride meet rush hour buses at the end of the line, and take passengers to their place of employment along Route 10.  This service likely takes any riders that would be using the 872 otherwise. Continue reading