I can’t remember ever receiving a 52% on a test in school and that being considered “satisfactory” or “acceptable.” Hopefully, NJ Transit doesn’t think so either.
During April and May, 19,000 riders filled out surveys rating NJ Transit in 4 areas: facilities, service/vehicles, communications, and overall. At the July 13 board meeting, NJ Transit officials released the first-ever results of this SCORE card initiative: a system-wide average score of 5.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, with rail riders the most dissatisfied (see results at right).
The Northeast Corridor rail line, serving 56,700 passengers daily, received the lowest overall satisfaction score of 4.0. Riders on the line gave NJ Transit a score of just 3.5 for “on-time performance,” and a 2.9 for “handling of disruptions.” Mechanical reliability and announcements during disruptions also got low scores, along with fares. The Atlantic City line received the highest overall satisfaction rate of 6.8.
A similar dissatisfaction was felt among New York interstate bus riders. 90,300 riders daily rely on NJ Transit bus service to bring them in and out of New York. ”New York Interstate” buses received the lowest overall satisfaction among bus routes, 5.1. Again, the biggest areas where NJ Transit fell short were, ”on-time performance,” “handling of disruptions,” “weekday evening schedules” and “fares.”
It’s not surprising that NJ Transit received a mediocre grade this first time out. Wounds are still fresh for transit riders stemming from the 22% fare hike and decrease in service seen last year, the cancellation of the ARC project and recent morning/evening rush hour rail delays due to ailing infrastructure. NJ Transit has gone on the record stating that there will be no fare hikes this year.
Making the Grade
Courtney Carroll, NJ Transit spokeswoman, indicated that this survey data will be used as a “baseline” for the SCORE card and “use the results to target specific improvements to customer satisfaction.” Surveys will then be conducted on a quarterly basis to not only determine customer satisfaction, but how NJ Transit responds to prior customer feedback. NJ Transit identified several areas needing improvement in the first survey go-round, but declined to comment on whether an action plan is currently in place to address them. Here are some suggestions to get state leaders started:
Fight for Northeast Corridor improvements. The line’s abysmal ratings show it needs investment that will improve reliability, such as a $450 million federal grant for electrical fixes that is at risk of being cut.
Improve the cross-Hudson commute by working with the Port Authority to add a second Manhattan-bound bus lane leading up to the Lincoln Tunnel in the morning and a westbound bus lane during evening rush hours. This will allow for additional NJ Transit buses and help ease congestion along the cross-Hudson commute, addressing the low scores from interstate bus riders. NJ Transit should also work along with PANYNJ to resolve the bus parking issue so NYC-bound buses do not have to return to NJ after the morning commute.
Institute bus rapid transit in select cities. NJ Transit has made some small steps towards implementing frequent, fast BRT through ”Go Bus” in Newark and Bloomfield. Increased service (as promised by the Christie administration) and the use of bus-only lanes, pay-before-you-board fare collection, and other BRT improvements would make life easier for bus riders concerned with on-time performance and weekday evening schedules.
Image: TSTC graphic using NJ Transit data.