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.

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.

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.

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.

10 deaths on Route 3 in the past year- does anyone else see a problem?

A brief compilation of news items from the past year:

• July 2014:  3 passengers in a minivan are killed when the driver (under influence of alcohol) drives into a guard rain in North Bergen

•February 2015:  A truck carrying a large steel object crashes into a bridge in Secaucus.  The steel object fell onto a nearby van, killing a passenger.

•May 2015:  A motorcyclist is killed on Route 3 in East Rutherford

•June 2015: 2 are killed when a driver loses control and rams into a tree in Clifton.

•June 2015: Similar to the accident in February, a truck hits a bridge in Rutherford, knocking a shipping container onto a nearby car, killing the occupant.

•July 2015:  2 are killed when a driver leaves the road on the exit lanes at Valley Road, also in Clifton

That’s a total of 10 people killled, not to mention pedestrian deaths.

There’s been no reaction to this.  No press conferences, no vows by the state to make safety improvements, and as far as I can tell, no safety enforcement campaigns.  There was however, a statement by a truck owners’ group asking for money to educate drivers about bridge heights. Otherwise, business continues as usual.

Compare this to the response from the Amtrak crash in May (8 fatalities).  The president made a statement.  The FBI and NTSB investigated.  The media was on it! To be fair, train crashes are far more spectacular, and rare events that make good reporting.

There’s a clear double standard here.  After a particularly gruesome train crash in California, congress mandated that all passenger railroads install positive train control on their systems.  Basically, an electronic way to enforce signals and speed limits.

If Route 3 was a railroad, it would have been shut down years ago. Or, it would be spending millions of dollars to install positive automobile control.

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.