The True Cost of Cutting Overnight PATH Service

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday's press conference. | Photo: nj.com

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday’s press conference. | Photo: nj.com

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.

The Port Authority quietly released a report between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays which included a “last resort” proposal to eliminate overnight service on PATH. The report states:

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.

4 Comments on "The True Cost of Cutting Overnight PATH Service"

  1. Martin Robins | January 8, 2015 at 5:35 pm |

    In your next MTR please publish an analysis of the overwhelming balance of the PA’s Special Panel report. It has many constructive suggestions, and the progressive Commissioners need public support to carry them out.

    Martin

  2. Clark Morris | January 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm |

    The more important quest is why does PATH lose so much per passenger compared with the New York subway. The fleet is relatively new. Millions have been spent upgrading the physical plant. It should be an efficient operation.

  3. The PA wants taxpayers and commuters to pay the cost for the Taj Mahal WTC PATH station. It’s not easy to make up for hundreds of millions in PA construction waste at WTC.

  4. Thomas Marchwinski | January 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm |

    Someone needs to request that the PA make available how much rent PATH pays to the WTC site. Back in the early 1990’s, it was over $20 Million per year. IT should be the reverse, the WTC site should Pay PATH for teh enhanced rents and access the WTC site recieves from PATH. If WTC were to dedicate 0.5% of its rental income to PATH, you could easlily expand service. Someone at Tri-State should ask Port Authority why it charges PATH rent at WTC, and how much. Also, with the new Taj Mahal transit center, you know PA will make all of that cost a PATH Cost. The NY Side of the PA wants to get rid of PATH payments, now that WTC has been paid for with tolls. Part of cost is FRA requring brake tests and using commuter rail rules for a rapid transit system.

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