NJ Transit strike: Our reliance on rail is ‘coming back to haunt us’
With rail workers still threatening to walk off the job in nine days, New Jersey Transit has unveiled a commuter contingency plan.
During a Thursday news conference at the Frank Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus, transportation officials announced that expanded bus service will be added, along with more private carriers, and five major park-and-rides will open in central and north Jersey, to help move some of the commuters who currently ride a train to work.
However, acting DOT Commissioner Richard Hammer said it’s very important for all New Jersey residents to understand “that a rail stoppage will not just impact rail commuters."
"It’ll have a severe effect on travel in the entire region, whether you take a bus, whether you drive. For commuters we are asking for patience - it is critical that we all continue to work together, and we ask New Jersey Transit customers to stay informed," Hammer said. “We know this will be a very unsettling time, circumstances will be difficult for all of us, this cannot be overstated.”
Dennis Martin, NJ Transit’s interim executive director, said unfortunately the agency will not be able to accommodate every displaced rail customer.
He said bus service on existing NJ Transit routes will be expanded and five park-and-ride facilities will open, and more private buses will be added on routes that mirror train lines. However, this will only serve about 38 percent of the total existing commuter traffic that goes into New York every day.
“This will not be a normal commute for anyone, as there are approximately 10,000 additional cars per hour that will be on the road,” he said. “Bus service across the entire system is expected to experience overcrowding and delays.”
It’s critically important that people understand the pervasive impact this type of job action will have on the region, officials said.
Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz said the additional traffic on New Jersey highways will create extraordinary traffic jams.
“We’re talking about backups that could be as long as 23 miles that could extend on Route 78, or 25 miles on the Turnpike,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen, we need to get the message out that it can’t be business as usual, it can’t be an average of 1.1 person per car driving in, it won’t work.”
He encouraged carpooling, telecommuting, and waiting till off-hours to travel anywhere near the Hudson River crossings.
“Some people might be spending four to five hours commuting back and forth - we’ve seen that in other transit strikes,” he said.
Martin Robins, a Rutgers University transportation expert and advisor at the Voorhees Transportation Center said the reliance by our state on rail transportation “which has proven so popular over the last 30 years is now coming back to haunt us. It’s a uniquely effective way to move people in large numbers through very limited space.”
He said NJ Transit can only really come up with a sub-par contingency plan because rail travel has become so vital to the region.
“It’s just so far and away a superior way to create economic mobility for people,” he said.
Robins added both sides - but especially the administration - should try harder to work out a solution and avoid a strike.
“It would take just some flexibility and good will by the administration and ultimately the state legislature,” he said.
Meanwhile, commuters are dreading the prospect of a strike.
“It could back up hours worth of traffic in addition to the typical traffic that you see in a day,” said Ken from Paramus.
Another train traveler said “it would affect people a great deal because ridership is as high as it’s ever been and there’s not many ways to get into the city.”
Rachel from Englewood chimed in, saying, “I think it’s going to make life very difficult and it’s going to be costly for people if they have to find alternative methods of transport, so it’s going to cause disruption, it’s going to be overwhelming.”
Carlos from Lyndhurst also believes a strike could be very problematic.
“It will definitely affect a lot of people because they’re going to have to start taking buses, there will be a lot of problems, traffic jams, traffic jams galore," he said. "The buses are not going to help and people are going to start taking their cars and that’s not going to help, so there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Neal from Hoboken added “I think it’s going to be mass confusion, okay, I don’t think there’s enough other transportation around for people to get to where they need to go.”
Annette from Ridgewood wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of a strike.
“I hate the buses, I always take the train, nine times out of 10 you’re just sitting in traffic anyway, and plus I get car-sick,” she said laughing.