While the New Jersey delegation focuses on The Gateway Tunnel, they are missing the real need to fix our completely broken public transportation system.
New Jersey has a whopping 1.9 million commuters. We are the third highest traveled state. According to the US News and World Report, we are ranked as the worst commute in the nation.
In 2017, a study showed that just an extra 20 minutes added to your morning travel could make you as miserable as a 19% cut in salary.
The Woeful Commuter
I commute regularly into Manhattan. I live 2.5 miles equally distant from the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge- 6.1 miles door to door to Port Authority. There is a spectacular view of the skyline, yet my commute has become a daily nightmare.
NJ Transit buses are often at standing room only; it is common for drivers to pass scheduled stops. Perpetual construction and increasing population along the Hudson have exacerbated the problem. Our express bus that previously took 15 minutes, added six more stops bringing the total travel time to 45 minutes. This represents a total lack of transit planning.
We also have the Bergen Hudson Light Rail, a true misnomer as there is not a single Bergen location. If you live in Bergen County, you must take a bus, Uber or your own vehicle to get to the station; that does not alleviate cars on the road.
Perhaps the most Zen way to commute is the NY Waterway Ferry, seven, short, lovely minutes across the harbor. However, I must take a bus, Uber, or car to get to the terminal, thus still putting a vehicle on the road. The Ferry also tends to be a bit pricey at $18.00 round trip, plus a $15.00 dollar a day parking fee.
That brings me to the obvious final option, driving my own auto. This can be the most challenging, but also provides me with the most travel flexibility. It is an absolute necessity for many people for whom public transportation simply does not work.
First, I have to brave the traffic on the bridge or through the tunnels. Today on my commute, there were no EZ Pass lanes open, only 4 EZ pass/Cash combined lanes were open at rush hour to process over 200,000 vehicles. This leads me to question, why push drivers to use EZ pass if you do not let them use specific lanes to ease congestion? Port Authority sure fights for increasing tolls but fails to implement actions to warrant those increases.
A Perfect Storm
The other downside for drivers is that one unexpected storm or incident can wreak havoc. A perfect example occurred on November 15th, 2018 when a massive snowfall combined with a serious accident on the George Washington Bridge, crippled the entire tri-state area. I sat on the FDR for over 7 hours which was littered with other vehicles that became stuck in the flooding or eventually just ran out of gas. Buses failed to get back into or out of the city. Eventually, The Port Authority Bus Terminal completely shut down, turned people away and had to call in special security to maintain order. Hardly a winning argument for using NJ Transit.
The Sting of Congestion Pricing
New Jersey commuters are now being punished with congestion pricing. We are already double taxed by New Jersey and New York. Each day that I am working in the city, I pay for parking, coffee, lunch and often patronize restaurants, theater or events. This is grotesquely unfair. How ‘is it equitable to penalize people who contribute to your economy every day? Will New Jersey now retaliate and add its own tax to New Yorkers who reverse commute?
Oh the Places You’d Like To Go
For commuters to solely use public transportation, it is imperative to provide them with a system that works. NJ transit must increase the number of buses while they add or change routes that are far too overcrowded.
The Bergen Light Rail must be finished. In 2013, The Bergen Record endorsed the reelection of a senator almost solely on the premise that he would be able to get that rail complete. Never happened. We are now halfway through 2019 and I see no progress.
In addition, think outside the box. Perhaps a monorail or pedestrian bridges for bicyclists and walkers. It might help to form a board made up of transportation innovators to explore creative solutions.
The Gateway Tunnel is a critical part of fixing transportation issues in the busiest corridor in the nation, but it must be supplemented with a rehauled public transportation system. I can see New York City from my house, but it should be more than a fantasy that I can get there in 20 minutes.