An open letter to NJ Transit provided to Patch:
Mr. James Weinstein
NJ TRANSIT Corporation
One Penn Plaza East
Newark, NJ 07105
Re: South Orange Train Station Village Schedule
Dear Mr. Weinstein:
As NJ Transit customers and community stakeholders, we are contacting you to collectively reiterate and emphasize the importance of restoring acceptable levels of service to the South Orange train station — specifically those that existed before the latest schedule change that took effect on October 14, 2012. Your latest accomplishment of being able to restore all commuter train service to New York to pre-Hurricane Sandy levels is to be commended. Despite the extensive damage caused by this storm to your rail cars and trains, you were able to push through — and for this, we are grateful. Perhaps you and your staff will be able to redirect some efforts back to providing relief to commuters who use the South Orange train station.
On October 14, 2012, NJ Transit implemented a new schedule resulting in the removal of all express and direct trains during the evening rush hour to the South Orange train station — which not only serves the residents of South Orange, Maplewood and surrounding communities but also towns that provide shuttle services to the station, such as West Orange and Livingston. Neither our community nor our elected representatives were made aware of these changes or that they were even being considered until after the new schedule had already been decided.
On October 22, 2012, representatives from NJ Transit appeared before the South Orange Board of Trustees and stated that the soonest a large-scale schedule change could be made would be January. They explained that any changes would be a result of fieldwork, data collection and feedback.
To date, you and your staff have received our petition and comments from more than 1,300 residents, both commuters and non-commuters, along with our business community and other interested stakeholders. You’ve heard the stories of how these changes have adversely affected your riders. We are confident that you will realize there was an error in judgment based on the data and feedback you asked us to provide. For your benefit, we have enclosed a copy of the comments that you should have already received via email.
South Orange – A Transit Village
South Orange has a long history of a firm commitment to smart-growth principles. When NJ Transit and the New Jersey Department of Transportation began their multi-agency Transit Village Initiative, our community was one of the first to step up to the plate. South Orange made the commitment to transform itself into a premier transit hub that would redevelop and revitalize areas around its transit facility. Consequently, in 1999 this community was one of the first designated Transit Villages. Our town has lived up to its promise and potential and continues to do so today. Over the past decade, South Orange has invested millions of dollars into comprehensive planning and development that has resulted in hundreds of new residential units within walking distance of the train station. Despite only being 2.9 square miles, South Orange grew 20 percent faster than the Essex County average. The most recent development, The Gateway, will be adding 57 residential units and 9,100 square feet of retail literally steps from the entryway to the train station platform. This community has done it right and continues to do it right, aligning its goals and principles not only to the original Transit Village Initiative but also to the larger State Development and Redevelopment Plan as well as the Draft State Strategic Plan currently under consideration.
This is important to your discussions about scheduling and train service because it is not enough to be a community that has mass transit — it is about the frequency, ease and certainty of our mass transit to our existing and growing commuter population. And from the commitment that our town has made in terms of time, money, resources, and execution, the discussion should not even be about restoring services. We should be talking about how we add more express trains and reward a community that has become the poster child of smart growth and development.
The schedule change is not just a matter of time added to a commute. On a much larger level, it suggests a disinvestment in levels of service to a community that deserves better and has earned better. It’s worth noting that this schedule change came almost exactly two years after your agency put out a Request for Qualifications to privatize two transit lots in South Orange as a part of a concession agreement to a third-party operator. That proposal would have been detrimental to future TOD, eliminated our parking authority’s ability to subsidize alternative transportation such as our jitneys, and would have had lasting negative impacts on our small business community and performing arts center that relies on our free parking on weekdays after 1:00 p.m. and on weekends. If it appears that our community members are frustrated, it’s because we are.
We hope moving forward that you and your agency will see the value in working in good faith with our town. An adversarial and contentious relationship hurts everyone, particularly when our goals are so much alike.
We are now well into January, and decisions are to be made regarding service levels to the South Orange train station. We understand that NJ Transit will be speaking to our elected officials shortly, and we hope you will be able to accommodate our requests.
Restoring express service is paramount. As you are well aware, this is the second busiest station on the Morris & Essex Line, serving more than 3,600 riders daily. Our community has been the beneficiary of having a 30-minute commute time without required transfers or extensive stops and our residents often comment that this was a big deciding factor in why they chose to live here.
Thank you again for your thoughtful consideration and we hope a solution can be found soon.
— The South Orange Community
cc: The Honorable James S. Simpson, Commissioner, NJ Dept. of Transportation
John C. Leon, NJ Transit Senior Director, Community & Government Relations
Paul Wyckoff, NJ Transit Chief of Government & External Affairs
Anthony Grieco, NJ Transit Senior Director, Customer Service & Transit Information
Tom Morgan, NJ Transit Senior Director of Rail Planning