In the week since the new New Jersey Transit commuter schedule has taken effect, the Village and the agency have had an earful from unhappy commuters. The station, which serves residents of South Orange, West Orange and Livingston in large numbers, sees rejiggered schedules -- and irate rail riders. A petition has been launched and a discussion is on the agenda for Monday's Board of Trustees meeting.
The petition, which is here, reads, in part:
The changes in the schedule have resulted in over-crowded, slow moving trains that stop at every station between NY Penn (or Hoboken) and South Orange. As a result, commuters are struggling to make daycare pick-up times, have less time with family, and arrive too late to patronize our town's small businesses. Families looking to relocate to a commuter-friendly village are looking elsewhere, negatively affecting South Orange property values. South Orange has deeply invested in the success of our train station, only to be left in the cold with recent service reductions.
We demand NJ Transit restore the level of service that a designated Transit Village deserves.
Resident and commuter Jim Skelly agrees. "I took the 6:19 this week and it added about 14 minutes to my commute. All stops. Packed like sardines in a can," he said.
A New Jersey Transit spokeswoman noted that the changed schedules adds a new train, the 6653 (leaving New York at 5:48 p.m.), and 1000 additional seats at peak evening rush hour. Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said, "We are listening," urging commuters to contact the agency with their feedback. The changes, she said, come in response to commuter concerns about overcrowding, and allow for more seating, less crowding, and more transfer options.
Village officials last week met with NJ Transit to discuss recent schedule changes. At the meeting's conclusion, the Village released this statement:
South Orange residents, as well as residents of Livingston and West Orange have contacted Village officials over the past week to voice concerns related to recent changes to the Midtown Direct train schedule, particularly for the evening commute departing New York. Residents were concerned that total travel times were increasing and the trains appeared to be more crowded.
Officials from Village Administration, including Village President Alex Torpey and Village Administrator Barry Lewis met with NJ Transit officials Wednesday to bring these concerns to Transit's attention, discuss the reasons for the changes, and express the community's concerns about the schedule changes in an effort to see what, if any, solutions might be available.
New Jersey Transit reported that they re-evaluate the train schedules at least twice a year, in the fall and spring, and more frequently if necessary. Transit officials had concerns and complaints about on-time performance and overcrowding on certain evening trains leaving New York. Those concerns were apparently the impetus for these recent schedule adjustments.
In addition to the concerns raised by residents, Village officials questioned whether the influx of new people from the recently started Livingston shuttles was taken into account in NJ Transit’s analysis. Officials also expressed concerns that this schedule change was not communicated in advance directly to the Village.
At the conclusion of the meeting, NJ Transit officials agreed to provide advance notice to the Village of any future proposed schedule changes. They also committed to reviewing the recent changes, including the ridership impact of the Livingston and West Orange shuttles, by the end of the month, and to share the results of that review with the Village. Specific suggestions received from residents for tweaks to the schedule were shared with NJ Transit and they agreed to review those suggestions as well.
All three of South Orange's state legislators - Assemblyman John McKeon, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Senator Dick Codey - were brought into the conversation and will be discussing the concerns the Village has raised directly with NJ Transit and other state officials. Additionally, Assemblyman McKeon, possibly joined by Assemblywoman Jasey, will be at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting (730pm in Village Hall) to update the community on this - and several other state issues - as well as show their commitment to ensuring that the concerns of our community members are heard. Additionally, Village President Torpey has been discussing the impact on commuters with other local mayors, including Mayor Rob Parisi of West Orange and Mayor Stephen Santola of Livingston, who both support South Orange's effort to ensure all of our community's concerns are heard.
While South Orange has no direct control over NJ Transit’s schedule, Village officials are committed to advocating for residents, with our neighbors and state legislators as partners. For this reason, residents affected by any changes are also strongly encouraged to directly contact New Jersey Transit customer service at (973) 275-5555 or submit comments online at http://www.njtransit.com/tm/tm_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=ContactUsTelephoneTo.
We have asked New Jersey Transit to provide more information in writing about the recent changes, and will be updating the community Monday at the Board of Trustees meeting at the latest.