Commentary: NJ Transit making Summer of Hell even hotter for Greater Morristown commuters

Commuters in Morristown board morning train to Hoboken, July 10, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Commuters in Morristown board morning train to Hoboken, July 10, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Editor’s note: The opinions reflected here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

By Derek Vintschger

I took the train in this week from Convent Station.  The train that normally gets into New York at 8:26 am got into Hoboken at 8:25, five minutes behind schedule there — or as NJ Transit calls it, “On Time.” 

Yes, the transfer to the PATH is easy, but it adds at least 30 minutes to the commute. That time adds up.

That was the train in.  The train home was another story.  NJ Transit has gone out of its way to make things as difficult as possible for everyone on the Morris & Essex Line, and they’ve even recruited people at the PATH to help. 

It all began at 33rd Street.  There was only one turnstile for all NJ Transit passengers to funnel through, and zero signs showing you where to find it, until you’re standing right in front of it. 

Also, while this doesn’t affect me, anyone who works below 33rd Street can’t board the PATH at any of its other stops.  That would actually be convenient for some people. 

No, cross-honoring is only happening at 33rd, so if you work downtown you either need to come up to go back, or pay up.  But that’s all in New York. The real disaster happens once you get to Hoboken.

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First of all, Dover trains all leave from track 17– at least all the ones on the schedule did when I was there. 

Track 17 is the second farthest track from the PATH, ferries, etc.  It’s as if they looked for the only other thing they could do to inconvenience everyone just a little more by putting their trains as far away as possible. 

There also wasn’t a soul around to help the people unfamiliar with the station find track 17, which you can’t see so much as a sign for until you’ve already walked three quarters of the way across the station.  

So everyone had to haul a– across the entire length of the station to get to the train.  And once we got there, there was nobody to help you get on the train in time.  Quite the opposite. 

They had someone whose sole job was to close a big iron gate to prevent anyone from getting on the train so much as one second past when it’s supposed to leave. 

Perhaps if they read the PATH schedule they would know a big group of people is likely coming, and maybe it would be best to wait just a few seconds for them.  Literally 10 seconds would have made the difference. 

But no. They closed the big gate right in our faces.  Myself and maybe 10 other people stood there for a full two minutes, mere feet away from the train, before they even closed the doors, let alone started moving. 

More than enough time for all of us to have gotten on, ran back to buy something to drink, and run back again.  But instead, the NJT employee just stood there with her back to us. 

Why does NJ Transit employ people to close gates and prevent customers from boarding a train while its doors are still open?  Is that really a good use of manpower and funds? 

I don’t expect them to sit and wait for every straggler to wander over and leave many minutes late, but be realistic.  Wait for the train to clear from the departure boards and the last few people to run over, then close it off.  How hard is it to wait for the screen to clear? 

It’s the unspoken way of saying, “You’re too late.”  That’s how they’ve been doing it at New York for the 16 years I’ve been commuting, and it works fine. 

NJ Transit is holding its customers to a higher standard than it holds itself.  As per its own policy, an NJ Transit train can be as many as six minutes late and still be considered “on time.” 

It’s quite the double standard to arrive somewhere six minutes late and still call it “on time,” and then close a gate the second a train is scheduled to leave and tell everyone behind it that they’re the ones who are late. 

No train has ever left NY Penn the moment it was supposed to.  Anyone who takes the trains with any regularity knows that.  This is the wrong time and place to suddenly start being interested in leaving exactly on time. Give us a break.

Yeah, my ticket only cost $5.50, but the trip now takes more than twice as long.  And that’s likely the reason the fares have been reduced.  So when you get home nearly two hours later than you should, they can honestly tell you, “Well what do you expect for only $5.50?” 

It shouldn’t take close to three hours to get to Morristown from midtown, and that’s before the train breaks down or something else goes wrong, which we all know is only a matter of time before it does. 

NJ Transit is an absolute disgrace and its handling of this whole ordeal is no less than that.  It was day one of this crap for me, day three for many others. 

After 16 years of commuting, my expectations were pretty low, and they still managed to let me down.  They had years to prepare for the Super Bowl and blew it, and that only involved half a day and two stations. 

This time they only had a couple weeks to devise a plan that would affect nearly every station over the course of nearly two months, and the best they could come up with was to basically flip off everyone on the Morristown line. 

I invite any and all executives from NJ Transit to come take the train from Morristown to Manhattan and back and let them experience it for themselves.  I’ll even buy their tickets. 

But let’s make it realistic and make sure they have an appointment they need to get to on time in New York, and something else they need to be home for later in the evening.  Let’s see how they like it.

Derek Vintschger, Morristown High School ’99, is an Emmy-nominated audio engineer who lives in Morris Township and commutes frequently to New York.

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