NJ

My train has been Dikembe Mutombo’d

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No one wants to be rejected.  The feeling of having your ideas panned or your heart broken is not a pleasant one.  Rejection can make you do all kinds things. You might withdraw. You might contemplate your place in the universe.  You might creatively use the name of a retired NBA player known mostly for blocking shots and sounding a bit like a Sesame Street character to show your displeasure for your streetcar system not getting built.

Our request for streetcar project was Dikembe Mutombo’d. So recapping, 0 for SI and $2.5 billion for other places pic.twitter.com/c0X8p9JxJL

— Jimmy Oddo (@HeyNowJO) February 4, 2016

Dikembe Mutombo’d = RE-JECTED!

Well played, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. Well played.

Oddo’s feeling of rejection was in response to news that Mayor DiBlasio wants to build a streetcar line connecting Queens and Brooklyn near the East River.  We know BDB does not want his QBX plan Manute Bol’d rejected.  But, where to go for some advice?  Cue the New York Times, with a rather glowing article about a successful light rail line to use for inspiration.

Was it in Europe or Asia?  Nope.  Minneapolis or Charlotte have newer systems, how about them?  Nope.

How about that transit juggernaut just across the Hudson.  Huh.  Huh.  I am talking about New Jersey and New Jersey Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

The two billion dollar, 17-mile system runs parallel to the Hudson River through some of the most population-dense cities in the country.  Its ridership is growing and has helped spur growth along the route.  Look at Hoboken’s westside and Weehawken.  But, the HBLR, for all its “sleek cars” that “glide” on rails and that it is getting “increasingly popular”, it has its issues that the Mayor can learn from.  Here’s my top four:

#1:  Its fare box recovery is terrible

At 33%, if it were not not for the Newark Light Rail and the Trenton-Camden RiverLINE (what the then director of NJT called “the poster child for how not to plan and make decisions about a transit investment.”), HBLR would be the worst in NJ.  Part of the reason is #2.

#2:  It uses the honor system for its fares

Unlike the New York City subway system or the PATH trains, the HBLR does not have fare gates.  And, unlike commuter rail, there are no conductors punching or checking every ticket.  Like a lot of Light Rail systems, it uses a proof-of-purchase system.  You buy a ticket and then punch it in a ticket validator that stamps the time on your ticket.  Ticket checkers will hang out at the station or on a train and check you ticket from time to time.

#3:  Weekends to Hoboken: Nope

If it is Saturday or Sunday and you live north of Hoboken Terminal, there are no HBLR trains to Hoboken Terminal.  You can go to Newport.  You can go to 2nd Street in Hoboken. But, you cannot take the HBLR to the busiest train station in New Jersey without transferring.

#4:  And speaking of missed connections

The HBLR is an NJT property.  Its biggest connections for rush hour commuters into NYC are the PATH and NJ Waterways Ferry.  While you can buy a combo ticket with NY Waterways, NJT has no combo or ticket reciprocity with PATH.  Wouldn’t one ticket be nice?

Pataki’s PATH to President 

At first glance, you may not think former New York Governor George  Pataki has any chance at winning the GOP nomination for Vice President/Bigger Speaking Fees President.  The former three-term leader of New York, and moderate Republican, will have to find his conservative side to attract primary voters.  But, do not count him out because this is a man skilled at the art of politics. I mean, this is the little-known State Senator from the Hudson Valley that took down Mario Cuomo.

His political acumen can be seen below in relation to the building of the World Trade Center PATH station.

From the Times:  

George E. Pataki, a Republican who was then the governor of New York, was considering a run for president and knew his reputation would be burnished by a train terminal he said would claim a “rightful place among New York City’s most inspiring architectural icons.” He likened the transportation hub to Grand Central and promised — unrealistically — that it would be operating in 2009.

But the governor fully supported the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s desire to keep the newly rebuilt No. 1 subway line running through the trade center site, instead of allowing the Port Authority to temporarily close part of the line and shave months and hundreds of millions of dollars off the hub’s construction. That, however, would have cut an important transit link and angered commuters from Staten Island, a Republican stronghold, who use the No. 1 line after getting off the ferry.

The authority was forced to build under, around and over the subway line, at a cost of at least $355 million.

Yes, the price tag for the World Trade Center PATH station has ballooned to $4 billion, and blowing off the chance to save nearly $400 million might seem damning.  But, that’s the art.  It is a drop in the bucket if you are looking for votes over multiple election cycles because New York politicians care about New York voters.  Pataki’s constituency was never New Jersey, where all of the PATH train riders come from.  It was the Staten Island residents that ride the #1 subway line after getting off of the Staten Island ferry.  Sure, any elected would say and want to play a pivotal role in the building of a beautiful public works project.  It is a monument to their time in office.

But, monuments don’t vote.  

Airheads

The year was 1978.  New York City wanted to make it easier to get people from Manhattan to JFK.  So, they shined up some subway cars, recorded a catchy jingle and the JFK Express was born.  Millions each year flew in and out of the airport.  Surely, some would use the service.  And, that was the problem.  Only some did.  At its peak, “4,000 to 5,000” riders used the service, with the number dipping to “3,200” when NYC Transit decided to discontinue the line.  Plus, “47 percent of riders” were commuters from its terminus in Queens.  So, that’s like 1,600 riders per day specific to the airport.

Now, the latest train to the plane is the proposed new PATH line to Newark Airport. Reports say it could move – trumpets please – about “6,000” airport goers each day! 6,000 per day is the same amount of people that ride NJT daily from Princeton Junction.  And, all of this excitement for just $1.5 Billion with construction to commence in 2018.  Governor Christie is a fan.  And, we all thought Chris hated trains. I mean he screwed hundreds of thousands of commuters each day when he pulled NJ out of the ARC tunnel project. But, apparently his love of trains is because he likes airplanes more, especially if they fly out of Atlantic City.  He’s so complex.

After listening to the old JFK Express advertisement, I may have found another reason why Governor Christie is a fan of the PATH extension.  This could be an opportunity to revive that jingle.  The Governor is fan of catchy jingles.