“Celebrating” the PANYNJ’s 100th Anniversary

OPINION

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) was formed by an act of Congress 100 years ago, on April 30, 1921, and has been celebrating its landmark anniversary. However, many local advocates for the region’s rail riders don’t see much reason to celebrate. Instead, we reflect on how the Port Authority has let riders down and resisted all reform efforts.

Perhaps the PANYNJ’s 2nd 100 years can focus on correcting this agency’s catastrophic failure to address its Charter Mandate to formulate and execute the necessary physical plans to boost the region’s economy and reduce its carbon footprint. The contempt this agency has for even trying to bring the region’s rail systems—freight and passenger—into a harmonious relationship is the heart of the problem.

Just as rail buffs have a continuing love affair with all aspects of rail systems—trains, track design, rail car layouts etc.—Nature has a balance. The PANYNJ has the largest collection of rail haters who would do anything to tear these elements into pieces of scrap!

The tragedy is that this agency has a monopoly on all motor vehicles paying tolls to cross the Hudson River in the NY-NJ-CT Metropolitan Region.

The two governors—of NY and NJ—have total control of this agency. So much for “taxation without representation”—legislators have no power to enact any sort of reform. With this high-powered contempt for rail at the agency, there is no hope for rail improvement without strong intervention from the governors.

A reform effort from 2014 is a case in point. In an exceedingly rare show of unanimity, every legislator in New Jersey and New York; every Democrat and every Republican, from Plattsburgh to Buffalo to Cape May, voted for reform. It never happened, because Governors Cuomo and Chris Christie would not allow it. On December 29, theStar-Ledger said in an editorial: “The sneaky Christmas week-end vetoes of Port Authority reform can’t be allowed to stand.” As history shows, they stood. Despite the paper’s outrage and that of reform-minded persons, the legislators lost their solidarity and the governors prevented the proposed reform. Not much has changed since then.

However, once in a while the governors will do something positive. Thanks to Governor Jim Florio, and others some two decades ago, the very successful Morristown Line Midtown Direct NJ Transit rail service is still in place, and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary! Of course midday headways should be expanded, perhaps to 20-minute headways, as San Francisco’s BART Service has, given the shift in riders from peak-hour workplace demand to more flexible work schedules.

The Lackawanna Coalition has done a yeoman’s job of preserving the rail service, and should be commended.

The Coalition was kind to see the presentation about how the PANYNJ could advance regional rail, I made on Monday, May 24, 2021. If you missed it, please take a look: https://www.irum.org/20190115_Why_PA_Should_Support_Regional_Rail.pdf

Coalition member George Haikalis has been an advocate and planner for more than 60 years. Throughout his long career, he has taken a regional approach to transit in the New York – New Jersey area. He gained much of his reputation during the successful fight in the early 1970s to stop Westway, a proposed superhighway on Manhattan’s West Side that was ultimately not built. The opinions expressed are his own.

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