By Erin Delmore
David Peter Alan lives three blocks from the South Orange stop on New Jersey Transit’s Morris & Essex line. He relies on it for transportation.
“The transit riders in our region have less mobility than they did five weeks ago,” he said.
What they’re getting is an early curfew, now that NJ Transit’s canceled the last trains on three lines. The last Dover-bound train from Penn used to leave at 1:19 a.m., now it’s 12:34 a.m. The train that used to leave at that time for Gladstone now pulls out at 11:49 p.m. If you’re south of Long Branch don’t count on the 1 a.m. train. The last one that stops is at 11:18 p.m.
Customers sounded off during this week’s board meeting, calling the cuts stealthy after other cuts were debated in public hearings, and after NJ Transit imposed a 9 percent average fare hike this year.
NJ Transit said they did notify the public and told NJTV News, “NJ Transit continuously looks to better align service with ridership demand and maximize operational efficiency and finances to benefit of taxpayers and customers. The schedule for these trains did not have demand for the service.”
They reported eight passengers on the Bayhead shuttle, 15 to 20 on the Gladstone line from Hoboken and 83 on the Morris & Essex line.
Alan took it up with the board this week.
“If we had known if we were slated to lose our trains, we could have fought to keep them,” he said at Wednesday’s board meeting.
But NJ Transit says they’re in line with a process blessed by the federal government a year ago — which only requires a public hearing when a line is discontinued, or discontinued on certain days, when more than a quarter of a line’s stops are cut, or when a passenger is left with a two hour service gap.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari says it’s unfair.
“If it’s your bus, or your rail service, on the particular time that’s being cut, that’s unfair to you. This is really about informing the public, giving them the opportunity,” said Scutari.
The NJ Transit riders we talked to seemed surprised and displeased.
“So when you miss it, it’s like, ‘How am I getting home now?’ And you have to think, ‘Oh, do I take an Uber back to the city?’ I mean, that’s ridiculously expensive. So yeah it’s really… anxious,” said Obianuju Mbamalu who works in South Orange and lives in New York City.
“It’s a difficult thing for people that are drinking and going out in the city because the late train really helps you if you’re staying out with friends. If you’re going to a dinner or a party, it’s a way to get back home safely,” said Lyndsey Mayer from Maplewood.
“I am concerned that as our transit gets worse, New Jersey is going to be less competitive than Long Island and Westchester,” Alan said.
An NJ Transit spokesperson told NJTV News the cuts made financial sense. The spokesperson said, “You’re always going to have that person who’s going to miss the last train. They just need to adjust their schedules.”