A bus ride in my imagination

640px-lincoln_tunnelThe idea of driving is a conservative one. You can go whenever you want, wherever you want. There are no schedules to stop you. And, the idea of the interstate highway – with no big government obstacles like traffic lights, crosswalks, or stop signs – is the true home to this idea. Sure, that highway was built and is maintained by the government (minor details). On paper, it is a simple concept. Drive fast or get over. Ah, freedom!

The commuter bus on the other hand is fits nicely as a liberal idea. Most, if not all, commuter buses are run by or contracted for operation by the government. Big government schedules your arrival and departure. It too shares the highway with those freedom loving drivers.

These two ideas are put to the test each day in the daily “debate” known as rush hour. Will the commuter alone in his or her car make it home on time? Will the commuter bus make it to its destinations on time? Both are jockeying for position as the highway fills. There are moments of compromise but a lot of brake lights. It is what I call decider overload. The idea that with so many people making decisions (I should cross three lanes of traffic to exit) or expressing their opinions (it is my opinion driving in the left lane at 45 mph is ok), it creates the environment for system break down. And, with that, you get traffic.

I knew I was in for quite a bit of decider overload as I rolled into the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 3:35p The next bus was at 4:15p, with my arrival in Frenchtown, New Jersey scheduled for 5:55p.

5:55p. I chuckled. Not only was it rush hour, it had started to rain.

I headed into the bowels of the Port Authority to Gate 10. With its chrome numbers and fire engine red bricks, I found the line for a Trans-Bridge interstate bus that would shoot down Interstate 78 and Interstate 287 before exiting on to US 202. This highway would lead us to Branchburg and Flemington before we connected to the two lane NJ 12 for the final leg to Frenchtown.

The overload started at the Lincoln Tunnel and was off and mostly on all the way to Flemington. None of this was surprising. Driving is the primary way to commute from this part of NJ. Just two commuter bus lines and one train– the maddeningly slow Raritan Valley Line – move people to NYC.

So, as the bus began its slog down US 202 – an arterial highway with traffic lights – I came to find out that the setup of this bus route was probably under the guise of, “you should be happy there is bus service at all” thinking.

Branchburg in Somerset County was the first stop. It has a park-and-ride on the eastbound side of US 202. The bus has to go past the park-and-ride to the next light, make a U-Turn, come back to the park-and-ride, drop people off, and then get onto US 202 North and proceed to the next traffic light to make another U-Turn to get onto US 202 South.

Efficient. With the rain, traffic and odd route, we were 35 minutes late to Frenchtown.

A similar situation happened in Flemington the next morning when leaving its park-and-ride to head to New York. The parking lot exit only allows for right turns out of the lot. This requires the bus to go west on NJ 12 and turn around via a traffic circle. Huh?

We were 15 minutes late arriving at Port Authority.

It is all a little sad.

You hear about the big plans and over budget projects like the criminally expensive PATH station at the World Trade Center.  Imagine all the little upgrades or the less glamorous projects that could have been paid for with just half the money that station ended up costing.

Imagine the park-and-rides in Branchburg or Flemington were in more strategic places. And, because they were, it would save the weary commuter 10 minutes.

Imagine the bus had its own lane that zipped past the traffic, like a train. Imagine there was a train that went to Flemington or even Frenchtown.

Imagine there was not a debate in this country about whether or not we should be fixing and upgrading our infrastructure.  

Imagine that. I will, as I sit in traffic.



Five more minutes means twice as many jobs


The Regional Plan Association has a new interactive map that allows you to see how many jobs you have access to by how many minutes you are willing to commute.  An example:  From Cold Spring in Putnam County, a 75 minute commute via mass transit would give you access to potentially 75,000 jobs.  If you up that number five minutes, the total nearly doubles.

One thing I noticed is it appears the mapping system does not include some of the Hudson Valley county transit systems like Ulster’s UCAT or Orange’s Transit Orange system in the equations.

“Sources: U.S. Census LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics, OpenStreetMap, OpenTripPlanner, NJTPA Regional Transportation Model, NYMTC, GTFS Feeds: MTA, NJT, Port Authority, NYCDOT, NY Waterway, Westchester Beeline, Nassau Inter-County Express, Rockland County TZx, CT Transit”

Also, not clear is if the private bus companies that dominate the west side of the Hudson are included.  Their inclusion would lead to higher job numbers on the transit side.

People train run out of Stubbville

When ever I get in the car for my trek to the train station this time of year, in the wee hours of the Hudson Valley morn, I realize I could have it worse. Sure, it is cold and dark.  But, I could be Neil Page and Del Griffith.  The characters, played  by Steve Martin and John Candy, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles unfortunately had to sit in the back of Owen’s pickup truck on their way to the “people train” because “‘lessen you are a hog or a cattle” you aren’t getting one in Wichita. “People train run out of Stubbville.”


With that in mind, and the mass transit use tax subsidy now cut in half, now is as good as any time to shop around to see if I nee to change my “Stubbville.”



Beacon Metro-North Station – August 2013

Beacon:  Pros – Lots of super express trains, lots of express trains, lots of trains, did I mention there are a lot of trains.  Plus, a Coffee/Snack shop on the platform.  Cons – Most expensive mass transit option, station configuration creates massive traffic jams, ass numbing seats in the old “Shoreliner” passenger cars and because of its location on the edge of the Hudson River by far the coldest train station I’ve ever used.

Time:  Best Case – 20 minute drive to the station.  Hit one of the express trains that goes non-stop to Harlem and GCT (some are under 70 minutes).  Then, a ride on the 4/5 subway downtown.  Door to door it is 2:15 each way if I am living right.  Probably more like 2:25-2:30.

Money:  Unlimited monthly:  $443 plus $20/month parking.  $20/month to cross the Newburgh – Beacon Bridge and a tank of gas every couple of weeks.  Plus, if I don’t want to walk 30 blocks add another $100 for subway rides.

Grand Total:  A hair under $700/month

Salisbury Mills-Cornwall Metro-North Station/Daniel Case from Wikipedia April 2007

Salisbury Mills – Cornwall:  Pros – Cheaper, newer cars with better seats, and you get to ride through NEW JERSEY!  Cons –  You get to ride through NEW JERSEY forcing a transfer in Secaucus to get to New York Penn Station, the longer ride, and the station is in the middle of no where.

Time:  30 minute drive to the station.  Best ride is between 78 and 84 minutes from Salisbury to NYP with the necessary Secaucus transfer with, for me, the 20 minute walk.  Probably looking at 2:30-2:35 if you hit it all right.

Money:  Unlimited Monthly:  $367 plus $20/month parking.  No bridge to cross so no tolls.  The drive is 5 miles longer so let’s throw in an extra half of a tank of gas for the month.  No MetroCard needed for the subway because we are walking.

Grand Total:  Lets say $525/month


Shortline Bus in Newburgh/October 2008/Adam E. Moreira


Pros:  Cheapest option, potentially no Port Authority stop, free parking  Cons:  Commuter plan somewhat rigid, You’ve ridden a bus, sorry motorcoach, right?

Time:  20 minute drive to the bus station.  1:33 – 1:40 trip (the bus stops near my office)  Parking free.  Probably 2:15 door to door if we don’t hit traffic however unlikely that sounds.

Money:  $303.85/month.  No subway and no parking charge.

Grand Total:  Around $400/month.


Traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel, November 2012

Traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel, November 2012

Google Maps says it is about 1:30 door to door for the 148 mile round trip.  That’s at two in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve Monday.  You are going to use at least two and half tanks of gas a week ($600/month) and have to pay the tolls on the Thruway and to go over Tappan Zee, GWB or through the Lincoln.  You also have to pay for parking.  The garage near my office is $600/month.  Hey, I can use my pre-tax parking benefit!

Grand Total:  NOT AN OPTION

Happy New Year!