Government Maplewood South Orange Towns

SOMA Commuters, Leaders Take NJ Transit to Task for Train Woes

Complaining about New Jersey Transit is something of a part-time hobby among South Orange and Maplewood commuters — but this summer seems to have brought anger at NJT to a boiling point.

After yet another summer of canceled and late trains — this time often with little or no advance notice — commuters are fed up. According to an online survey conducted by South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, over 80 percent of the 960 commuters who responded said they were “dissatisfied” with NJ Transit, with half of them saying this summer is worse than last year’s much-ballyhooed “Summer of Hell.”

“We understand change takes time, but the current situation is just plain unacceptable,” wrote Collum and DeLuca in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, and NJ Transit’s Executive Director Kevin S. Corbett.

Some of the survey’s key findings:

  • More than 80 percent of survey respondents were “very dissatisfied” (43 percent) or “somewhat dissatisfied” (37 percent) with NJT’s rail performance in July.
  • During July, 45 percent of respondents said their trains were canceled 5-9 times, 41 percent said 0-4 times and 10 percent said 10-14 times.
  • 89 percent said they didn’t find out about cancellations until they arrived at the station. Eight-three percent either “never” (43 percent) or “seldom” (40 percent) received an explanation for the cancellations.
  • Fifty-percent stated this summer is “much worse” (25 percent) or “somewhat worse” (25 percent) than last year.

See the entire letter and survey attached below.

Download (PDF, 128KB)

In the press conference on Thursday, Murphy acknowledged commuters’ frustrations and acknowledged he had “underestimated” how bad the situation had become.

“We understand the frayed nerves of riders,” said Murphy according to a report on NJ.com. “I don’t blame commuters one bit for their anger and cynicism. We can and must do a better job.”

Murphy and NJ Transit officials blamed the delays on a number of factors including a shortage of train engineers and the ongoing installation of the federally mandated Positive Train Control safety system.

But South Orange and Maplewood leaders want a solution. They are demanding that the administration and NJ Transit take immediate steps to address the situation, including adding additional busses and ferries, cross-honoring tickets — and improving communication to riders.

“There is simply no excuse that the overwhelming majority of riders are finding out on a station platform that their trains are either cancelled or delayed,” wrote the town’s leaders. “A robust communications strategy, similar to 2017, needs to be put forth immediately. For the most part, NJ Transit riders understand that improvements and repairs are necessary, especially given the years of deferred maintenance and underfunding of this agency. However, all commuters deserve to have the highest level of predictability so that they may adjust their schedules accordingly.”

Collum and DeLuca also suggested quarterly meetings with NJT, noting that the towns want to continue its partnership with the agency to advocate for the Gateway Tunnel Project:

“While we speak directly on behalf of two communities, there are 116 municipalities with rail operations serving tens of thousands of commuters daily. The absence of this project moving forward will have devastating impacts to New Jersey’s economy as transit hubs represented roughly sixty percent of growth in the state over the past decade. We believe Governor Murphy and the administration’s acknowledgement of the importance of our transit system. Even yesterday, Governor Murphy put this issue comparable to the importance of quality public education for the state. We agree.”

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