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.