Thursday, March 13, 2014

NJ Transit off-peak discount for train riders to be reconsidered

A report received by state Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson in response to his question of whether NJ Transit could restore off-peak discounts for rail riders has been sent to the circular file.

"I threw the report in the garbage," Simpson said Wednesday during the monthly NJ Transit board meeting.

The report from NJ Transit's rail operations noted that the discounts during weekends and other off-peak hours, which were discontinued several years ago, were not viable for "capacity reasons," said Simpson, who chairs the board.

"I could not come before this body and try to sell that, because it made no sense," he said. "I don't think the report was worth the paper it was written on, so I've asked folks to go back to the drawing board."

Kevin O'Connor, who has been forced out as NJ Transit's vice president and general manager of rail operations, was not at Wednesday's meeting - the first for new executive director Ronnie Hakim.

Coupled with a train fare hike of 25 percent in May 2010, off-peak passengers who lost their 15 percent Printable Coupons had to pay nearly 50 percent more - 64 percent in the most extreme cases.

Off-peak hours generally are outside of 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays.

David Peter Alan, who chairs the Lackawanna Coalition rail advocacy group, said outside of those hours, "there is plenty of room" on the trains.

"I am so glad to hear a commissioner take an active part in matters that really affect us as riders," Alan said after the meeting. "I didn't see that report, but I believe the commissioner said it recommended against restoring off-peak rail fares. And if it said that, he put it in exactly the right place (the garbage)."

Orrin Getz, a member of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers who rides the Pascack Valley Line, noted that Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road have greatly expanded off-peak service by offering discount fares.

Simpson said NJ Transit needs to be creative when looking at opportunities for off-peak discounts - for example, studying the feasibility of a reduced off-peak fare to Hoboken Terminal.

"The goal is - you've got the trains running, anyway - to get as many seats filled," he said. "It's the airline model - fill the seats."

Looking at off-peak discounts is part of a large to-do list for Hakim, a Simpson ally who arrives from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

On the bus side, Simpson said he would like to see more alternatives to dropping people off at the already overstuffed Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, including dropping people off on the street or bypassing the bus terminal to take riders to the East Side of Manhattan.

NJ Transit also is opening up some committee meetings to the public, beginning with the customer service committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday and the administration committee at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the NJ Transit headquarters next to Newark Penn Station.


* NJ Transit to consider bringing back off-peak discounts

* Commuters skeptical about idea to bypass Port Authority's bus terminal

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