Commentary: ‘Summer of Hell,’ Take 2…a Morris Township commuter tries the ferry

The ferry terminal in Hoboken, July 2017. Photo by Derek Vintschger
The ferry terminal in Hoboken, July 2017. Photo by Derek Vintschger
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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

After getting tired of being crammed on the PATH, last week I decided to try to Ferry in the mornings. 

About halfway through my first trip, seated inside where it’s spacious and quiet, I thought to myself that the Ferry is by far the most civilized way to cross the Hudson, only to realize a few minutes later that the Ferry’s slogan is actually “The Civilized Commute.”  

There’s also a little personal satisfaction in knowing it costs NJ Transit considerably more to pay for a Ferry ticket than it does a PATH ticket. 

While the Ferry is by far the most civilized option, it’s also the slowest.  It took me an average of 50 minutes to get from Hoboken to Times Square on the Ferry and its complimentary bus, while on the PATH I averaged 40 minutes.  Both quite a bit more than the 15 it takes me to walk from New York’s Penn Station.

Is it better? A Morris Township commuter weighs in.
Is it better? A Morris Township commuter weighs in.

The last two weeks had given me a pretty positive attitude towards the cooperating agencies, but I had also spent all my days thus far working normal business hours of 9 to 6, which is not common for me. 

Thursday ran later and I didn’t start my journey for home until after 8:30pm.  I was already on the west side of Manhattan, and the weather was rather nice, so I decided to take the ferry back to Hoboken.  

Did you know the Ferry from 39th Street to Hoboken / NJ Transit stops at 8 pm?  I didn’t. 

There is no schedule for the Ferry to Hoboken / NJ Transit listed anywhere on the NY Waterway website, or anywhere in either ferry terminal, so how could I know? 

I’ve since searched for it to make sure I wasn’t being stupid, and the only place I’ve found this information listed is on the NJ Transit summer “rider guide. ”  

But why would someone think to go to the NJ Transit website to find a ferry schedule?  I thought the Ferries to Hoboken 14th Street were the same thing. 

I’m not from Hoboken, I don’t know the street address of the train station, and no other mention of Hoboken appears on any piece of NY Waterway material, either physical or virtual, so I figured that must be it.  I like to think it was a reasonable assumption, though ultimately wrong.

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I found this out after asking at the information desk when I arrived at the Ferry terminal.  It was now after 9 pm, and I was looking to get the 9:54 train out of Hoboken, as the next one wasn’t until 10:54. 

Knowing NJ Transit will gladly close a gate in my face before the train is even scheduled to leave, and knowing it takes 40 minutes to get to Hoboken from 44th & Broadway and I was at 39th and 12th, I started running. 

I ran to 34th Street, managed to catch a cab across town, ran down the steps at 6th Avenue, and onto the PATH at 33rd Street with less than two minutes to spare.  I had made it, but upon arriving in Hoboken, I learned something else rather infuriating about this new commute.  

Both the NJ Transit and PATH websites state that NJ Transit tickets will be cross honored from 6 am Monday to 2 am Saturday at Hoboken, WTC,  and 33rd Street. This is not true. 

When I arrived in Hoboken around 9:45 pm, there were no PATH employees anywhere to be seen.  Instead there were large signs saying cross-honoring was not available at this time. 

While this didn’t affect me since I was going in the other direction, it’s still pretty infuriating as it directly contradicts what both agencies have told us. 

As someone who often works late and just happened to be working regular hours the last few weeks, I’d like to know: When does cross-honoring end at 33rd Street, so I can plan accordingly?

After taking eight round trips over the last two weeks, I’ve considered it very carefully and come to the conclusion that this new system of commuting really sucks. 

The additional 80 – 100 minutes a day it takes me to get to and from work is worth a lot more to me than the $5 reduction in fare.  I’m not trying to brag, but I make more than $5 an hour and my time is worth a lot more to me than what I’m saving on my ticket. 

This is something NJ Transit will never understand, as they have no concept of time.  If they had a concept of time, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be six minutes late and still call it on time, while at the same literally blocking customers from getting on a train that isn’t schedule to leave yet and telling them they’re too late.

Of course, making the train is irrelevant if you can’t get on.  I’ve taken the 6:38 train most of the last several days.  It is a train that normally leaves from Hoboken year round, not one that’s been added to the schedule for the summer. 

While I’m sure during normal times five single-level cars is plenty for this train, during this summer it is not.  The train is routinely packed with all middle seats filled, standing room only, often with barely even enough room for everyone to stand. 

The view of New York, from the ferry, July 2017. Photo by Derek Vintschger
The view of New York, from the ferry, July 2017. Photo by Derek Vintschger

And just to add insult to injury, last Friday, which you may recall was rather warm, the car I was in (which was 20 percent of the entire train) had no AC.  We were told we could move to another car as the other cars had AC, but because the train was so overcrowded, it was physically impossible to do so.

I can’t come in late, I can’t go home early, I can’t work from home.  So I, and many others, are stuck with this for at leastfive more weeks. 

NJ Transit needs to stop paying friends of its executive director to write fake commentary columns on NJ.com about how wonderful the new commute is (though even he admitted it took an hour longer than normal to get to work) and worry about fixing its problems. 

Just because their problems have been overshadowed by Amtrak’s in the last few months doesn’t mean they’ve simply gone away.  

As I type this I see that NJ Transit has just announced it will now run buses from the Morristown train station to the Port Authority.  It took them how many days to figure out there’s a demand? 

But only in the mornings.  Everyone is still on their own to find a means of transportation that is both operating, cross honoring, and allowing people to board prior to departing, in order to get home.  Good luck.
 
 
 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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