Earlier this week, more than a dozen federal, state and local elected officials and labor advocates gathered at Grove Street PATH station for a press conference to call on the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to rescind a recent proposal to eliminate overnight PATH service. Rallied together by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, those joining in the call included U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Albio Sires, North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco, Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack, State Senator Sandra Cunningham, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Eliminating overnight service during weekends (i.e., eliminating service on Friday night/early Saturday and Saturday night/early Sunday) would produce operational and capital expense savings. …PATH could achieve operational and capital savings estimated to be at least $10 million per year from stopping service altogether between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on weeknights.
The impact of a service reduction would be limited. Assuming that some riders slightly alter their travel plans to ride the last train before operations cease or the first train after they recommence, approximately one-half of one percent of PATH riders during the time period (just under 1,500) would be affected.
That’s a pretty big assumption on their part, given that the Port Authority’s definition of “slightly alter” may not match up with that of the wide array of riders who rely on the late-night PATH service, which fills the sizable gap in bus and NJ Transit service for the early morning trips to and from Manhattan. For Hoboken residents, the last train home from Manhattan leaves at midnight on weeknights and the first train to the city on weekday mornings isn’t until 6am, leaving all third shift employees, musicians, performers and early morning Wall Street workers to rely on PATH. According to Mayor Fulop, roughly 390,000 riders would be impacted annually by the loss of service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights and possibly hundreds of thousands more if weekend overnight service were also eliminated. For perspective’s sake, in all of Hudson County, more than a third of all households do not own a vehicle.
Experts in real estate have also opined that the reduction in service would negatively impact the business and residential markets. The proximity to NYC and robust mass transit options including PATH service and NJTransit has been a significant selling point in Hudson County, especially in Hoboken, prompting Hoboken’s mayor to say “Even having the idea out there, even the possibility of doing that, is damaging our economy.” Mayor Fulop said of the proposal, “It makes very little sense to be giving huge incentives, billions of dollars from Trenton, to attract residents and businesses to move across the river while at the same time proposing to curtail or eliminate an asset which attracts business and residents to move here. It doesn’t make any sense.”
As a pretext for suggesting these service reductions, the report states: “The Port Authority must also address the PATH’s financial performance.” As it currently is structured, operating costs of PATH are paid for by fare revenue, albeit insufficiently, thus it would make fiscal sense to start exploring how other beneficiaries of the system – such as businesses who thrive because of PATH service – can help. The MTA Payroll Mobility Tax, paid for by businesses within the MTA service region, is an important financing mechanism based on this shared principle that could serve as a model.
The Port Authority report, which is intended as a guide for agency reform, should call for an expansion of mass transit options for New Jersey residents, not a reduction. In a time when new cross-Hudson capacity is desperately needed, service reduction is not an option. Whatever the reason for suggesting this proposal, $10 million in savings represents only “a wee bit more than a 1/100th of 1 percent” of the agency’s $7.8 billion budget. Surely the Port Authority can find other less disruptive means of pinching pennies.