MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — On Friday, Dec. 14, South Orange and Maplewood officials joined state Sen. Richard Codey, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey in a meeting with NJ Transit officials to discuss service improvements, timetables, communications, capacity and infrastructure, according to a Dec. 17 press release from the two towns.
This meeting followed correspondence from the towns with concerns and suggestions from nearly 1,000 commuters who participated in a survey, in addition to ongoing concerns and suggestions that ensued over the past months.
“It’s been a tough year for our commuters and we want the public to know that we hear you, we’ve been advocating for you and we’re holding NJ Transit accountable. Implementation of Positive Train Control coupled with engineer shortages have led to an untenable situation for our NJ Transit riders and right now, we’re focused on minimizing impacts and providing better service and certainty to our riders,” Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca said in the release.
During the meeting, NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett provided the following updates and committed to strengthen communications with local officials and commuters moving forward.
NJ Transit will add bus service to the South Orange and Maplewood train stations. Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 2, NJ Transit will offer express bus service to the Port Authority Bus Terminal from South Orange and Maplewood train stations during peak morning hours, with buses departing at 7, 7:30 and 8 a.m. Rail tickets or passes from either South Orange or Maplewood respectively to Penn Station New York will be valid and cross-honored to utilize this service. Bus service will be an option for train commuters and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
In a fall survey of SOMA commuters, 89 percent indicated they learned about cancellations and delays while at the station, “causing significant disruption to their work or home life.” At the Dec. 14 meeting, Corbett shared the following:
- NJ Transit has put all key communications personnel into an Emergency Operations Center, including rail, bus and NJ Transit police to coordinate notifications and timeliness of when messages are dispatched to customers across various communication platforms. This was the first step in a comprehensive reorganization of the entire NJ Transit Communications Department to provide better information faster.
- Customized transit alerts on the NJ Transit Mobile Application were introduced earlier this month and will roll out to all users by Friday, Dec. 21. Alerts will enable users to receive “push notifications” even if they don’t have the mobile application open.
NJ Transit officials also shared that with respect to Positive Train Control that they have completed an important equipment installation interim milestone, one which allows the agency to have until December 2020 to integrate, test and fully implement the system in full service. This federal mandate was primarily the source of delays and cancellations during the summer and fall with fewer pieces of rail equipment to operate service. Additionally, NJ Transit is still dealing with engineer shortages and in response, has quadrupled new training classes with graduation anticipated between next May and December. Moreover, multilevel rail cars are being added with up to 20-percent added passenger capacity.
Along with the immediate response to transit customers, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum expressed concern about the status of the Gateway Program and highlighted that the state is encouraging growth and expansion of affordable housing in transit hubs, but without sufficient capacity and reliable service, the absence of a new tunnel will have devastating local and regional impacts on the economy, the environment, public safety and property values.
“This is the most critical infrastructure project in the country and we need decision-makers to step up,” Collum said in the release. “Getting people to work in our region may not seem like a big deal to a senator in Texas but it should since our region is responsible for 20 percent of the national GDP. I’m more hopeful following the midterm elections but urge all commuters and riders to continue advocating for this project at all levels of government. We can’t afford another eight-year delay and the time is now.”
Attendees at the Dec. 14 meeting included: Codey; McKeon; Jasey; Maplewood’s DeLuca, Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee, Committeeman Dean Dafis and Committeewoman Nancy Adams; South Orange’s Collum, Trustee Walter Clarke, Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, Trustee Karen Hilton and Trustee Howard Levison. Officials from NJ Transit included: Corbett, Chief of Staff Justin Davis, Vice President and general manager of NJ Transit Bus Michael Kilcoyne, Chief of Government and External Affairs Paul Wyckoff, Senior Director of Government and Community Relations John Del Colle, and regional managers of Government and Community Relations Lawrence Hamm and Jauhara Pressey.