To Ease PATH Crowding, Port Authority Should Look to MTA

Image: Friscocali/Flickr

What happens when efforts to attract transit-oriented development are so successful that the transit network can’t keep up?

New York City transit commuters have grown quite accustomed to this over the last few years. And many trans-Hudson commuters — people who ride NJ Transit buses or trains into the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Penn Station — aren’t strangers to delays and heavy crowds either. Now, with so much development springing up near transit stations in Jersey City and Hoboken, PATH commuters are starting to experience similarly stressful commutes.

Some MTA NYC subway lines run as frequently as every two minutes during peak hours, but the most frequent PATH ever runs trains is every four minutes between Journal Square and 33rd Street. Passengers who take the Hoboken to World Trade Center line can wait up to 50 percent longer, with trains running every six minutes during peak hours. It seems like a simple solution: run trains more frequently. But PATH trains can’t run any closer together than they already do, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Upgrades to PATH that would allow run trains to run more frequently—and help reduce crowding—aren’t expected to arrive until the end of 2018 at the earliest. A new advanced signal system, which is part of a crash-avoidance system required by federal law, would let PATH trains run closer together, increasing capacity up to about 20%, Port Authority officials said.

It’s clear that PATH riders need these upgrades to come on line even sooner, but until now lawmakers have invested more political capital on a redundancy project — extending PATH to Newark Liberty International Airport — than on this urgent capacity need. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a lot easier to hold a ribbon cutting for a new station than it is for more frequent service.

The MTA has its own struggles with growing ridership, but the agency has taken steps toward running trains closer together to ease the pain on some of the busiest subway lines. One key difference between the two is that the MTA has a more diverse funding model than PATH, which is funded through fares and state subsidies from New York and New Jersey (via the Port Authority). In addition to farebox revenue and state subsidies, the MTA receives local subsidies from the communities it serves, and dedicated funds through the Payroll Mobility Tax, the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assist, the Petroleum Business Tax, a surcharge on New York City taxi fares, and other sources, such as agreements through which developers fund transit enhancements in exchange for the ability to build taller than what would normally be allowed under zoning.

This is a season of change at the Port Authority. While projects like the Gateway tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal have grabbed more headlines, the agency’s leaders must not overlook the need to find new ways to fund improvements for PATH riders. Fortunately they won’t have to look far to find some good examples.

4 Comments on "To Ease PATH Crowding, Port Authority Should Look to MTA"

  1. Extending PATH to EWR would make a lot more sense if it served the terminals directly. It’s time to get rid of that stupid monorail.

  2. Clark Morris | June 7, 2016 at 2:59 pm |

    Given that the Newark – Journal Square – World Trade Center trains share the tracks with the Journal Square – 33rd Street trains between Journal Square and Grove Street, assuming equal numbers of trains on that stretch getting the frequency for both lines so that there are more than 15 trains an hour on each will be tricky. This is especially true because the Newark trains share the tracks with the Hoboken – World Trade Center trains between Exchange Place and World Trade Center and the Journal Square -33rd Street trains share the track through Newport with the Hoboken – World Trade Center Trains and the tracks from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River to 33rd Street with the Hoboken – 33rd Street trains. Given all of the merge – split – merge operations, increasing the frequency will be easier said than done. Lengthening platforms also will be difficult and expensive.

  3. TJ Kazalski | June 10, 2016 at 12:23 pm |

    Extend PATH to Newark Liberty Airport to Eliminate the failing monorail

  4. Mr. Transit | June 11, 2016 at 10:27 am |

    Yes, with so many more transit capital investment needs in the NJ-NY area, extending PATH to Newark Airport would be a big waste of scarce dollars. The airport already has good transit connections via NJT and Amtrak and the Port Authority is planning to upgrade or replace the monorail. The NJ-NY area continues to have problems with prioritizing its many capital needs. When will folks learn?

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