Friday, November 09, 2012

NJ Transit and Port Authority Fail Commuters During Crisis Yet Again

The disaster response by NJ Transit and PATH is beyond deplorable. It's atrocious and defies common sense. The agency seems to think that it's done a good job in providing information to its customers, and yet there is a daily crush of thousands of commuters attempting to get home by way of one of the three rail lines servicing New Jersey other than the Atlantic City Line or the bus service that is wholly inadequate to pick up the slack.

All one has to do is look across the river to the MTA to see how disaster response should be handled.

The MTA faced as bad a crisis as anything that NJ Transit and the Port Authority faced combined. Miles of tracks were submerged and damaged. Seven rail tunnels were flooded as were several key stations. The entire system was impacted.

Yet, within days bus service was up and running and a week later subway service was resuming in the formerly flooded tunnels. This weekend will see still more service added, leaving just a handful of Lower Manhattan stations out of action plus a segment of the A line in the Rockaways that suffered catastrophic damage.

That compares with the PATH service, which is essentially out of action due to flooding of the two tunnels to the World Trade Center and damage to both the WTC and Hoboken terminals. They have a fraction of the track and stations to dewater, and yet they're taking even longer to restore service.

The same goes for NJ Transit and their rail lines.

The buses that NJ Transit are offering are wholly inadequate to the task and the agency can't even admit that they're not up to the task of attempting to provide service to hundreds of thousands of commuters that rely on mass transit on a daily basis.

An average train can move 800-1,000 people.

The average bus? 50? 60 if you pack them in tight? People who normally take rail are somehow supposed to get on a handful of buses that are already full with their ordinary riders. The existing bus schedule hasn't been increased to handle the overflow; people are somehow supposed to take the existing bus service, even though the Port Authority can't handle the crowds at the bus terminal.

There simply aren't enough scheduled buses to handle the loads. Even with emergency shuttle service from designated locations, people simply can't get to where they need to be - namely work.

And that doesn't even begin to describe the mess at the Port Authority. Not only have the crowds been a disaster waiting to happen, but what should normally be a 40 minute commute stretches to 3-4 times as long because buses aren't available, are delayed, or inadequate to deal with the crowds during peak rush hour. Waiting an hour or two can help alleviate the congestion, but people can't do that when they've got family and obligations back home. Some things can't wait until 8-9pm before attempting a commute home. Add to that the fact that phone and Internet service is poor inside the Port Authority and you get little information as to why the delays are occurring beyond the congestion one sees.

That was the case earlier this week when not only were there no buses coming into pick up any passengers for 45 minutes while I was waiting on line, but there was no indication as to why or when service would be restored. On a separate occasion, NJ Transit and Port Authority didn't explain why service was delayed for more than an hour just to exit the Port Authority and it took further digging to find out that the traffic delays from the Lincoln Tunnel were the result of downed lines that blocked access to the George Washington Bridge - backing up traffic for miles on end and forcing detours to avoid the congestion.

The NJ Transit response has been inadequate as to how and why trains aren't running on the Bergen or Pascack Valley lines either. They could claim that the trains couldn't run because of power outages at key locations along the routes, but with power now being restored, NJ Transit should be working with the utilities to get power restored so that key mass transit links get back up and running faster - reducing the need for people to drive to work (exacerbating the fuel crunch around the region).

Besides, NJ Transit has operated trains on the Main/Bergen/Pascack lines during outages in the past. It's slow and tedious, but it can be done. They aren't even attempting that.

It would even be plausible for NJ Transit to contend that they can't run the trains because of damage to their Rail Operations Center, but that should have been resolved as well. After all, if the MTA can dewater 6 of 7 tunnels and get service up and running, NJ Transit could and should be able to do the same.

At the same time, there are further delays due to the fact that Amtrak hasn't been able to get all of its Hudson and East River tunnels functioning. They're running at reduced capacity as well, and they're hopefully going to be able to get back up and running. That would alleviate much of the crunch for both Long Islanders and New Jerseyeans because trains would be able to access Penn Station easier.

Governor Christie must hold the agency accountable and thus far he's not done enough to get the agency moving in the right direction. That compares with the MTA, which has done a yeoman's job of keeping the public informed as well as answering and answerable to Goveror Cuomo. The response has been light night and day, and it has made an already difficult situation intolerable.

Whereas the MTA is transparent on its rebuilding efforts - daily updates including photos and news conferences, the NJ Transit site has done little beyond the initial posting that indicates the damage in general terms and not what the agency has done already to rectify the situation.

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