New Penn Station departure board tells riders to “check schedule”

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This is one of NJ Transit’s new departure screens at New York Penn Station.  It’s supposed to show every station on the NJ Transit system and what train to take in order to get there.

The only problem is that the information is incomplete.  About a quarter of the stations show “*see schedule for next trip.”  There’s no departure information for the Raritan Valley Line or Port Jersey Line. Only spotty stations on the Main, Bergen County, and Pascack Valley Lines is displayed. For instance, Allendale on the Main/Bergen is shown, but there’s no departure listed for Broadway – Fair Lawn.

This is a shocking failure of public information.  Consider this:  If you walked up to an information booth and asked the employee for the next train to Bridgewater, and she said “Check the schedule,” it would seem either downright rude or just incompetent.

The information on the screens isn’t even the same as what’s in the printed timetables.  This picture was taken at 5:16 pm. According to the Bergen County Line timetable, someone going to Allendale should get the 5:35 pm departure, and change at Secaucus.  For some reason, the screen says to get the 5:21. Departure screens are supposed to show the latest possible departure, not the earliest.  Otherwise, someone who misses the 5:21 wouldn’t know that they can take the 5:35, causing them to miss the connection.

The screens also fail to show all transfer opportunities.  For instance, it shows the next departure to Chatham at 5:43.  This train gets in at 6:31.  But by getting the 5:18 train and transferring at Summit, it’s possible to get to Chatham at 6:14.  A rider going to Chatham might think that there’s not way to get back home until the 5:43 train, and then spend 15 extra minutes in transit, even if he is in a hurry.

In this case, incorrect information actually has negative value. Some people will always prefer to take a direct train and get home 15 minutes later, but there is also a group more time-sensitive of people who are willing to transfer if it means they can get home sooner.  There are two options here, but the screens only show one. Instead of letting the passenger make the decision, the screen effectively makes that decision for the rider.

But at the same time, the screen tells East Orange passengers to take the 5:30 to Montclair and change at Newark. This might be because East Orange is only served by trains from Hoboken, but Chatham gets Hoboken and Midtown Direct service.

Compare this to the LIRR’s station-by-station departure board:

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Meet Hudson County’s 30+ transit operators

Transportation-wise, Hudson County, NJ is a complicated place.  The network of trains, buses, ferries, and light rail is fragmented into many different operators.  In addition to just NJ Transit and the PATH, there are over 30 different transit providers in the area: public, private, and quasi-public.

This creates a lot of difficulties and intricacies for transit providers and passengers, which I’ll go into more after the jump

State/regional transit agencies:

•NJ Transit bus, rail, and light rail

•MTA bus from Bayonne to Staten Island

•Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH)

•Hudson Transportation Management Association shuttle bus from Kearney to Harrison PATH station

Meadowlink shuttles in Harrison, Kearney, and Secaucus

Municipal:

•City of Hoboken HOP shuttles

Town of Weehawken ferry shuttles

•Town of Secaucus train station shuttle

Scheduled private operators:

New York Waterway ferries and buses

Seastreak ferries from Jersey City to Monmouth County

Liberty Landing ferry

A&C Bus Corporation in Jersey City

Broadway Bus in Bayonne

Decamp Bus Lines in Harrison, Kearny, Secaucus

Academy Bus Lines from Central NJ to Jersey City

Carefree Bus Lines on Belleville Turnpike, on the border between Kearny and North Arlington

Institutional transit providers: Continue reading

Frequent Transit in the Newark Area

NJ Transit may have its own wacky, confusing bus maps, but the average traveler is only concerned with about half of the routes on the map.  A bus isn’t useful if it only runs in one direction at rush hour, or once an hour.  What’s really important is frequent, reliable transit service that’s available whenever you want to go somewhere.

Here’s what the transit inf the Newark area looks like if we remove all of the peak-only and low-frequency routes from the map:

frequentnewark

A little in the way of explanation:  I removed all corridors that don’t have service at least every 12 minutes during the midday off-peak period (roughly 9am-3pm). Rush hour service is almost always more frequent. Those corridors with service every ten minutes or less have thicker lines.

Some corridors are made up of multiple routes, that together provide a high frequency service. The best example of this is Bloomfield Avenue, where the 11, 28, go28, 29, and 72 all operate every 30 minutes, but are synchronized so there is 10-minute service from Newark to Montclair.

In many cases, only parts of a bus route had frequent service.  Take, for example, the #1 line.  It runs from the western border of Newark to Jersey City, but only the central part of the route has service every 12 minutes.  To the west, some buses turn back early, leaving the rest of the route with less regular service.  The line has several branches to the east, all with diminished frequencies.

A few surprises:

•The Newark Light Rail makes it onto the map, but the Path doesn’t.  In the middle of the day, the Path at Newark Penn Station runs every 15 minutes, which is relatively infrequent for a rapid transit service.

•The #13, which is literally NJT’s busiest bus route, runs only every 12 minutes off-pe Continue reading

Why people run for a train that won’t leave for 5 minutes, and what we can do about it

It’s a scene that plays itself out at subway stations thousands of times a day: A train is sitting at the station, doors open, waitSubwaying to depart.  A person walks into the station, and not knowing when the train is about to go, sprints towards the first open door.

It’s the result of a personal calculation that transit riders make.  Not knowing if the train is about to close its doors and depart, the best thing they can do is run for the train, just in case.  It’s the best they can do with the limited information they have.

This isn’t really a problem at most stations or bus stops, where the train or bus isn’t waiting around for several minutes before leaving.  It’s only a problem at terminal stations at the end of the line.

On many American transit systems, it’s common for the bus/train to leave the terminal with no warning.  There are several things wrong with this:

•Passengers decide to run, regardless of whether they have to or not.  This is stressful and makes the public transit experience less pleasant.

•It’s frustrating to run for a train that then sits there for 10 minutes.

•It’s frustrating to walk through the station and have the train leave before you can get on board.

•If everyone things the train is about to depart and gets in the first door they can, the first car they reach will be full, and subsequent cars will be empty. It messes with load distribution.

In the past decade, transit agencies have started to install signage that tells customers when the next vehicle is going to depart.  This is great, but it will be a long time before every terminal rail station is equipped with these and their readings are accurate.  We may never reach the point where the end of every bus line has these signs.

But there’s a much simpler solution.  Continue reading