NJ Transit Riders Endure Rough Commutes After Fare Increase

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For the commuters who collectively make almost a million daily trips on New Jersey Transit, it’s been an arduous week just seven days after the agency’s board approved service cuts and a 9 percent fare increase.

New Jersey Transit suspended Manhattan-bound service ahead of Wednesday’s morning commute thanks to malfunctioning overhead power cables. Though the agency lifted the suspension as of 7 a.m., commuters were left grappling with delays of 60 to 90 minutes as trains into New York shared a single track.

It was a third straight day of headaches for commuters, who have complained to the agency about having to pay more for inadequateseating and unreliable service. On social media, riders directed their ire at Governor Chris Christie, who killed a tunnel in2010 that would have doubled peak commuter service to Manhattan. Canceling the project allowed Christie, who’s running for president, to divert money toward the state’s depleted highway fund and avoid raising the gasoline tax.

“Things are bad, and this week has been particularly acute,” said Joshua Crandall, who operates CleverCommute, a Twitter-like mobile application that allows riders to share information on service. “Business for me is booming -- which is a sign that people are frustrated.”

During Monday’s evening rush, the agency warned of 45-minute delays on trains out of New York because of damaged overhead wires. The next morning, riders on the Northeast Corridor line faced trains running 45 minutes behind schedule due to signal problems on the part of Amtrak, the national railroad that owns the tracks.

Tracks Shared

Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, the nation’s largest statewide mass-transit system, referred calls to Amtrak. New Jersey Transit handles 955,000 passenger trips daily across 12 rail lines, 260 bus routes and three light-rail lines.

The only direct train access between New Jersey and Manhattan for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit is via a pair of century-old tubes under the Hudson River. The tunnels operate at peak capacity and delays are routine.

Wednesday’s snarl started about 5:45 a.m. with a power failure affecting both tubes, some station tracks and portions of Sunnyside Yard, a switching facility in Queens, New York, according to an e-mail from Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz. Electricity was flowing again by 7:45 a.m., he said, “but trains will experience some residual delays as we work through the resulting congestion.”

At 11:46 a.m., the company sent an alert to passengers that trains were operating on or close to schedule.

Relief Sought

About 15 percent of New Jerseyans endure commutes of 60 minutes or longer, one of the highest rates in the nation, Census Bureau data show.

The promise of long-term relief for rail commuters fizzled in October 2010 when Christie, a Republican, canceled the federally led Access to the Region’s Core project that began in 2009, saying he was displeased by the design and concerned that costs would mushroom.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, didn’t immediately comment on this week’s transit woes.

Gateway, an alternative tunnel proposed by Amtrak in February 2011, lacks funding and would take at least a decade to build.

New Jersey Transit’s governing board voted this month to raise fares an average 9 percent and to eliminate some bus and train routes to close a $120 million deficit. Chairman Jamie Fox said decades of skimpy public funding led to the need to charge more. The increases take effect in October.

Janna Chernetz, senior New Jersey policy coordinator for Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a commuter-advocacy group, said Christie’s decision to cancel ARC was a “double whammy” that hurt the state’s ability to handle increases in ridership even as federal transit funding shrank.

“We could be on the road to actually expanding capacity under the Hudson,” she said. “This is an issue that is obviously due to New Jersey’s lack of adequate investment and transportation funding on both the capital side and on operations.”