NJ Transit Ridership Up Across the Board

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

New Jersey Transit recently opened its committee meetings to the public, allowing riders greater insight into the agency’s operations and performance stats. Ridership data made available at the August Customer Service Committee meeting has revealed some interesting usage trends across NJ Transit’s operations, highlighting customer needs in several areas.

The most encouraging insight gained from the committee’s report is that total June 2014 ridership across all three modes increased by 4.8 percent compared to June 2013, while statewide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased and gas prices continued to soar. Rail ridership was up 7.3 percent, and the HBLR showed tremendous gains with a 6.9 percent increase in May and 7.4 percent in June, compared to 2013.

With statewide transit ridership increasing at such an encouraging rate, the state would be wise to prioritize a sustainable funding source for transportation projects. Thankfully it seems there is growing momentum to help push this issue in the right direction, though with NJ Transit already dependent on borrowing against its own capital funds to cover growing operating costs, a solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis can’t come soon enough.

Ridership stats across NJ Transit’s three transit modes allowed us to identify three specific transportation infrastructure projects that, if prioritized, could significantly improve and expand existing service for NJ Transit customers.

Rail

The Northeast Corridor ridership takes four spots out of the top five, with Midtown Direct service on the Morris & Essex Line in the top spot.

Line                            Train July 2014 Ridership
Midtown Direct M&E 6620 7:33am from Dover 27,918
Northeast Corridor 3712 8:39am from Jersey Ave 27,632
Northeast Corridor 3957 6:01pm from NY Penn 26,950
Northeast Corridor 3502 8:08am from Rahway 20,042
Northeast Corridor 3515 6:16pm from NY Penn 19,668

Midtown Direct service, which offers a one-seat ride to New York’s Penn Station, was added in 1996. Since the addition of the service, homes near train stations served by Midtown Direct increased in value by an average of $23,000 per home.

The now defunct Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project would have provided not only fast and more frequent service between New York and New Jersey as well as similar financial property value gains, but it would have ensured sustainable cross-Hudson transit infrastructure. Amtrak’s proposed Gateway project would significantly expand and improve NJ Transit service as well as provide additional one-seat rides to Penn Station. So far, the right-of-way has been preserved, but funding for the project has yet to be identified.

Light Rail

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) was hands down the winner in this category with 475,541 riders in July. This is more than double the ridership of Newark Light Rail and over four times that of the RiverLine.

Line                            July 2014 Ridership
Hudson Bergen Light Rail 475,541
Newark Light Rail 207,163
RiverLine Light Rail 99,429

HBLR only serves Hudson County at this point, as plans to extend the line to Tenafly were quashed. This spring, 12 municipalities along the line lobbied for expanded service to Bergen County’s Englewood Hospital, the largest employer in Bergen County, asserting that the plan would “create more jobs, decrease traffic congestion and enhance economic development throughout the region.” Public hearings on the proposal will continue through the fall, with a final impact study planned for the spring of 2015.

Bus

Unsurprisingly, all of the top five bus lines all terminated in New York. Four of the five lines originate in Bergen County, which has the second highest number of New York-bound commuters in the Garden State.

Line                            Route July 2014 Ridership
166 Dumont-Tenafly-NY 379,158
165 Westwood-NY 316,564
139 Lakewood-Old Bridge-NY 278,871
163 Ridgewood-NY 200,537
167 Harrington Pk-NY 176,366

Unfortunately for these New York-bound commuters, the last stop on their commute is a failing bus terminal. It likely comes as no surprise that the Port Authority Bus Terminal,which Port Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Scott Rechler called “obsolete in every way you can imagine,” underperformed all other major regional bus terminals by more than 10 percent with an on-time departure rate of 84.9 percent for the month of July. NJ Transit’s bus service had 10 percent lower average on-time performance than NJ Transit’s light rail service between August 2012 and July 2014, with congestion cited as one of the contributing factors for lagging bus service. 

However, there is some good news on the horizon: the PABT is expected to undergo improvements. In July, the PANYNJ  Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution reallocating $90 million from its current 10-year Capital Program to a plan for improvements under the working title “Quality of Commute.” A detailed plan on how the Port Authority will spend that money is expected to be presented at this Wednesday’s Board meeting in Jersey City.

5 Comments on "NJ Transit Ridership Up Across the Board"

  1. ICYMI: What 4 issues could derail @NJTRANSIT plans to move more rider to NYC? http://tinyurl.com/ocltctr #NJTFF #infrastructure #Transportation

  2. Re: Light Rail ridership

    What the numbers really show is the poor performance of the River Line.

    HBLR has 34.1 directional route miles (from NJ Transit Facts at a Glance

    http://www.njtransit.com/pdf/FactsAtaGlance.pdf)

    That puts HBLR boardings at about 14,000 per directional route mile for the month of July.

    Newark Light Rail is much shorter – 6.2 directional route miles. That puts July boardings at 16,700 per directional route mile, actually higher than HBLR.

    On the other hand, the River Line is over twice as long as HBLR, at 69.7 directional route miles. Its July boardings work out to only 1,400 per directional route mile. Thus, River Line is a very poor performer, thwice the mileage of HBLR; but only 10% of the boardings.

    Note: River Line has longer passenger trip lengths, in part because a passenger can go much further. But it is a real outlier in ridership and, in my opinion, a very poor investment of NJ taxpayer dollars.

  3. Robert Campbell | September 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm |

    It might be interesting to note that the busiest bus route on Long Island, the n6 Jamaica-Hempstead, carried 397,666 in July 2014. This is slightly more than NJT’s Rte 166.

  4. Very cool analysis Rob! While almost perfectly executed and lovely to ride, the RiverLINE would seem to have been a not so wise investment. I wonder what Middlesex County would have looked like if they spent that money on a Middlesex County Lightrail (focused around New Brunswick) which was projected to have much higher ridership numbers. We can only wonder.

  5. jerome crosson | September 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm |

    Regarding the RiverLine – by my latest calculation, costs $ 8.50 subsidy for each rider.
    How is that called an “investment” ?

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