Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 - Regional Administrator Judith Enck’s office was the only government office brave enough to stand up to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to raid Environmental Facilities Corporation water and sewer funding for the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project.

R Train riders - The Montague Street Tunnel storm recovery project has been completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. - Queens commuters are applauding the stellar service provided by the new Q114 route, and the Councilman has plans to further expand service in the borough.

Metro-North Railroad - The agency launched a pilot program for bike racks on Connecticut’s New Haven line trains, and also received an award from the 2014 BuildSmart NY Awards for its Grand Central terminal energy conservation projects.

New Jersey Transit –While only a partial solution to addressing capacity concerns, the agency will be replacing all current train cars with double decker designs and all buses with a fleet of longer designs with more seats.

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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.

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Fix-it-First Investment Takes Priority in NJ’s FY 2015 Transportation Capital Program

NJDOT logo colorNew Jersey’s 2015 Transportation Capital Program reveals the state is spending less on unsustainable expansion projects and more on maintenance and preservation. According to Tri-State’s analysis, the FY 2015 Capital Program is dedicating the highest share of funds towards road and bridge maintenance and the lowest percentage of funds to expansion projects in recent memory.

Expansion projects in the 2015 Capital Program comprise only 3 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects comprise nearly 32 percent. By comparison, expansion projects made up 10 percent of the 2014 Capital Program funds and maintenance/preservation projects 25 percent; in 2013 expansion projects accounted for about 12 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects nearly 30 percent.

In 2015, for every dollar spent on roads or bridges, about 7 cents will go towards expansion while nearly 80 cents will go toward maintaining existing assets. In 2014 and 2013, about 25 cents on every dollar going to road or bridge projects went to expansion, and about 63 cents went to preservation.

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Port Authority Bus Terminal “Commuter Chat” Event Tomorrow

Last Friday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “announced” via social media that it would be holding a “Commuter Chat” session for feedback about the Port Authority Bus Terminal on August 12.  Tomorrow’s session is part of the recently-announced “Quality of Commute” Improvement Program for the failing bus terminal, which according to the [...]

A New Port Authority Bus Terminal May Be Closer Than We Thought

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Back in February, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) officials said it was “premature” to put any spending for the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in the capital program, and that nothing would be done regarding building a new bus garage until a $5.5 million study was complete.

But it seems like the Authority is revisiting this stance given new financial optimism and pressure from advocates and elected officials.

A few weeks ago, PANYNJ Commissioners Ken Lipper and Jeffrey Lynford of New York and David Steiner of New Jersey indicated that due to “several recent positive financial developments for the agency,” a new terminal “could and should be added” to the 10-year, $27.6 billion capital plan adopted in February. This news comes in response to New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s testimony last month during the monthly meeting of the Port Authority Board of Directors.

The growing number of public complaints from New Jersey Transit commuters who use the PABT caught the attention of Assemblymembers Gordon Johnson and Senator Loretta Weinberg, who held a hearing on June 11 in Teaneck specifically to discuss concerns regarding the PABT. “We wanted to make sure in a most public way that NJ Transit and PANYNJ are well aware of the problems,” Weinberg said. “We’ve been hearing from our constituents,” who Weinberg says often must stand for more than an hour at a gate waiting to board a bus.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

WINNERS

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo – This morning Governor Cuomo signed into law a piece of legislation that authorizes the expansion of speed camera use on Long Island, saying that “By empowering Nassau and Suffolk Counties to install dozens of speed cameras in school zones, we are helping to protect our students and ultimately save lives. This should send a message to all drivers – slow down and obey the speed limit, especially when passing by a school.”

Hopewell Township, NJ – The township became the 100th municipality in the Garden State to embrace Complete Streets and the first municipality to do so by way of a Complete Streets ordinance. According to the Township Administrator/Engineer Paul Pogorzelski, “we decided that this policy should be in the form of an ordinance and have the weight of law rather than simply be part of a resolution which does not transcend governing body changes. “

Amtrak - Amtrak announced that they have begun testing new bike-friendly baggage cars to alleviate passengers of the hassle of boxing and checking their bikes as luggage. These baggage cars, which are manufactured in New York state, are expected to be put into service on all 15 long-distance routes by the end of this year.

New Jersey Transit – The agency has unofficially launched its first-ever one seat ride summer shore rail service from Penn Station to Bay Head using new energy-efficient dual-powered locomotives. Riders will save 25 minutes by not having to change trains at Long Branch, which will likely boost ridership to the shore and alleviate summer parking in shore towns. » Continue reading…

NJ Transit Chief: “No Service Cuts Or Fare Increases”

NJ Transit’s new Executive Director Ronnie Hakim has gotten off on the right foot by protecting bus and train riders from service cuts and fare hikes. In response to a Tri-State inquiry concerning the proposed $15 million cut to NJ Transit’s operating budget included in Governor Christie’s budget, Executive Director Hakim assured advocates that there [...]

Insult to Injury: Governor Christie’s Cuts Would Reduce Subsidy for Already-Underfunded NJ Transit

NJ Transit says there won't be any fare increases if Governor Christie's subsidy cut is approved. What riders don't know is if there will be any service cuts. | Photo: AP

NJ Transit says there won’t be any fare increases if the subsidy cut is approved. What riders don’t know is if there will be any service cuts. | Photo: AP

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced several budget cuts Wednesday aimed at plugging the Garden State’s $807 million budget deficit. Among the cuts was a $14.8 million cut to the subsidy the state provides to New Jersey Transit.

This $14.8 million represents just under 1 percent of NJT’s $1.9 billion operating budget, but it’s an operating budget that’s already substantially underfunded. Over the past three years, $1.16 billion ($363 million in FY2012, $397 million in FY2013 and $397 million in FY2014) has been transferred from NJT’s capital fund to meet the agency’s operating needs. That’s nothing to sneeze at: $1.16 billion is enough to fund the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension, replace the Portal Bridge or make a serious dent in the cost to build the Camden-Glassboro Light Rail project.

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Since We Can’t Fix What Happened on Super Bowl Sunday, Let’s Focus on Improving the Daily Commute

Delays persist on NJ Transit while the agency remains focused on uncovering what happened on Super Bowl Sunday. | Photo: CBS New York

Delays continue to plague NJ Transit’s everyday riders, but the agency and state leaders remain focused on trying to solve what happened on Super Bowl Sunday. | Photo: CBS New York

After the Super Bowl transit “nightmare,” New Jersey Transit (NJT) announced there would be special legislative committee hearings and a Board investigation to figure out what caused such a “hellish commute to and from MetLife Stadium.”

If only state officials focused their efforts instead on solving the problems that plague NJ Transit commuters every day. February has been a dismal month for NJ Transit so far, with delayed trains becoming just another part of the daily routine. So why hasn’t anyone launched an investigation into the cause of these problems? The Super Bowl has come and gone, but the daily commute is here to stay.

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“Mass Transit Super Bowl” Highlights the Difficulty of Getting Across the Hudson

mass-transit-SB

Photo: John O’Boyle/The Star-Ledger

Even with the weather on its side, New Jersey Transit was unable to meet the transit demands of the approximately 28,000 attendees who purchased rail tickets to the Meadowlands station. Super Bowl fans waited hours at cramped stations on overcrowded platforms and squeezed into tightly-packed trains to make their way to and from the game. With each 10-car train only able to accommodate 1,600 passengers, it took hours for attendees to return home after the Seahawks throttled the Broncos yesterday.

But while train service may have struggled, it appears that the many more fans who arrived by bus had a smoother ride.

The Super Bowl Host Committee offered a “Fan Express” bus service from nine locations in New York and New Jersey. To expedite the trip between Manhattan and New Jersey, one westbound lane of the Lincoln Tunnel was dedicated exclusively to the buses, an infrastructure improvement that is noticeably lacking during regular weekday commuting times.

So, what are the lessons learned from the first mass transit Super Bowl?

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