Millennials’ Transit Needs

What do customers born after 1980 (the “millennial generation”) need from public transit?  To find out, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been studying this new generation of riders, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (July 23).  For one thing, they take efficient transit for granted: they have no experience of the bad old days 40 years ago when New York transit was graffiti-ridden, dirty, dangerous, and breakdown-prone.  Today, they expect things to work, and demand technology, such as next-train-clocks at every station, Wi-Fi access and, yes, 24-hour service, which is bad news for the MTA’s programs of shutting down subway lines at night for maintenance projects.  MTA is responding to the perceived needs, planning to have “real-time-information-displays” (i.e., countdown clocks) in all subway stations by 2020, and has already wired some subway stations for Wi-Fi; smartphone apps can already provide next-train information—if the phone can get service, of course.

MTA Mulls Westchester/Bronx/Penn Station Service

According to reporting on WNYC (Oct. 9), New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering a completely new line of rail service, using the Hell Gate Bridge to allow trains to run from Connecticut and Westchester through the Bronx and into Queens, Manhattan, and possibly Brooklyn.  MTA reportedly has asked residents of the East Bronx how they would react to the possibility of 4 new stations on the line.  Reaction has been generally positive, although residents question what the fares would be.  One estimate is that fares other than to Manhattan would be no more than $5 (half for seniors/disabled), which would be the lowest on the MTA commuter rail system.  The report suggested that trains might also stop in Queens and Brooklyn.  The Hell Gate Line, owned by Amtrak, passes through northwestern Queens enroute to Penn Station in Manhattan, and hosts only Amtrak trains bound for New England, usually no more than 1 per hour in each direction; there would seem to be substantial unused capacity.  No details were mentioned about Brooklyn service; the logical route would be via the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge branch, underutilized for decades but with a direct connection to the Hell Gate Bridge.  The Bay Ridge line, once a heavy freight route, currently sees only occasional freight trains from the New York & Atlantic freight carrier and various connecting systems. The new line would give MTA rail commuters access for the first time to a terminal on the west side of Manhattan in addition to current service to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s east side.  The new line would reportedly be funded out of MTA’s own capital budget.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that underused rail corridors must be exploited to fully serve the population of the Tri-State region.  In addition, all commuters to Manhattan deserve access to terminals on both sides of Midtown; MTA is to be commended for planning to expand the options available to its riders.  Although New Jersey planners have paid lip service to the idea of east-side access for NJ commuters, this always seems to vanish as new projects are planned.

MTA Chair Lhota Champions Cooperation

Quoted on radio station WNYC (June 14), New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joseph Lhota says that there are solutions to the capacity limits at New York’s Penn Station—if the railroads using the busy terminal would cooperate more.  Lhota said there are three ways to increase capacity: longer platforms, more sharing of platforms among the three railroads (NJ Transit, MTA’s Long Island Rail Road, and Amtrak), and sharing of tracks, particularly if trains would be scheduled to run straight through the station, serving customers both east and west— the MTA/NJT cooperative service from Connecticut to New Jersey for fall football games shows that this is feasible.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that increased cooperation between the various operating agencies is vital to an efficient regional transportation network; through-running, a unified fare system, coordinated schedules, and compatible equipment all have a part to play.  Until additional tunnels can be built under the Hudson, however, rush-hour capacity to New Jersey appears limited to the number of trains currently in service; the tunnels simply cannot handle more trains.  In the near term, it appears that if demand on NJT and Amtrak trains continues to increase, solutions will involve increased use of the Hoboken gateway and economic incentives to encourage travel outside of peak periods.

MTA Rails Say Safety Deadline Tough

Federal law requires commuter rail operators to implement an advanced safety technology, Positive Train Control (PTC), by 2015.  However, many operating agencies protest that the new technology is expensive, untested, and cannot easily be obtained.  The presidents of the two railroads operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro North Railroad (M-N) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), have protested that they may be unable to meet the deadline.  Howard Permut and Helena Williams, presidents of M-N and LIRR respectively, note that they “make operating a safe and reliable system . . . our absolute priority” and that the lines have already invested over $1 billion on a signaling system “providing a level of security greater than that of many rail systems today.”   In addition, they say, in a joint letter to The New York Times (May 5), to install PTC requires retrofitting 1200 miles of track and more than 1000 rail cars and that much of the technology needed is not yet even developed, let alone approved or in production.  In a follow-up letter to The Times (May 8), the CEOs of the American Public Transportation Association and of the Association of American Railroads emphasized that the railroads do not seek to delay implementing the new technology because of the costs involved; instead, they wrote, the technology simply won’t be ready in time for the 2015 deadline.

We do not have information on PTC compliance at NJ Transit; however, NJT is known to have already implemented highly advanced “civil speed enforcement” technology on many lines, and this technology may provide most or all of the features required in the new law.