NJ Transit Should Take Over the PATH Train: Report

Friday, April 25, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Commuters board a PATH train toward Newark at the Journal Square station in New Jersey. New York City, Manhattan, NJ, Commuters board a PATH train toward Newark at the Journal Square station in New Jersey. (Natalie Fertig/WNYC)

To stem the PATH train's tide of red ink, it should raise fares, be funded in part through tax subsidies, and be operated by New Jersey Transit.

That's a broad interpretation of recommendations coming out of the Citizens Budget Commission, a respected New York City-based fiscal watchdog that's just released a report entitled "Financing PATH: Options for Deficit Reduction."

The group has been studying the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the PATH train. (Last year, it released a report urging the Port to overhaul its budgeting process.) The CBC report pointed out that the PATH is one of the Port's biggest money losers, and it will likely run a $387 million deficit this year. By 2018, that deficit will grow to $487 million.

The problem: high operating costs and low fares.

Charles Brecher, the CBC's consulting research director, says the PATH's financing should be overhauled. "The expenses have gone up because there's been substantial investment to modernize it," he said. Meanwhile, "the fares are unusually low." The undiscounted one-way cost of a PATH trip costs riders $2.75. But it costs the Port Authority $8.45.

(The report tries to head complaints about fare hikes off at the pass: "It is worth noting that PATH serves a more affluent ridership than many transit systems. According to the latest survey, 44 percent of PATH riders have household incomes of more than $100,000 per year. This share is larger than for the New York subway (36 percent), commuter bus (39 percent), and local bus (20 percent) riders, but behind those utilizing MTA commuter railroads (60 percent).")

The rest of the PATH system is currently being subsidized via Port Authority bridge and tunnel toll revenue.

"One of the things that struck us," Brecher said, "is it's the only transit system in the country that doesn't have some general tax subsidy." That, said the group, should change.

As should its governance. The group says it makes sense to take the PATH out of the Port Authority's portfolio so it can reconnect to its core mission and focus on revenue generators. "You'd free up money for new investments in the things that contribute to development and make money, like the airports," said Brecher. "And it frees up money if you wanted to start thinking about alternatives like ARC."

Moreover, New Jersey Transit is already in the transit business. "They're the other railroad running under the river," said Brecher. Giving NJ Transit operational control of the PATH would make it responsible for 86 percent of commuters from that state to Manhattan's central business district, allowing it to better coordinate the region's transit.

Neither the Port Authority nor New Jersey Transit would say whether they're taking the idea seriously.


Comments [6]

Nathan from Hoboken, NJ

I am not sure there is a single thing the PANYNJ does right: EWR is a disgrace, the PATH is decades overdue for a connection to EWR, the new PATH cars make incredibly loud noises of escaping air as if no one at the PA has ever taken a ride on one, and the list goes on and on - it has failed to plan regionally for the millions of people who have to exist in this live between two artificial constructs of NY and NJ. No regional train network, no regional cab network, millions for new PATH cars, but no link to EWR? It takes me longer to get to EWR from Hoboken via PATH/NJT/Air Train than it takes to fly to Chicago, no thanks.

I dare anyone to stand at the endurance of terminal A, after the 2 hours transit time to EWR, and tell me the PANYNJ deserves any accolades.

That said, it makes perfect sense to tax the hell out of cars at crossings, in gas taxes, registrations, fees, and other taxes to fund mass transit. So this article is just frankly lame, WNYC I expect better from you.

As for if NJT should take it over, maybe, but let's recall that NJT has problems in service and facilities as well, have you seen the Hoboken bus terminal, I mean shed thing, that hundreds of people shiver under in the winter while buses sit idling feet away, passengers unable to sit on them. I can only assume this is some union nonsense. This is the same NJT that lost how many rail cars because of Tony Soprano, I mean Gov Christie and his mishegas.

And please for the love of all that is holy, do not give the PATH to the MTA, if only to maintain the no eating and drinking policy that keeps the PATH trains so very much cleaner than the NYC subway.

I give up, because no one in any position of power around here cares about what happens to those of us that have to use these systems everyday. They just don't care. It is so sad.

Apr. 28 2014 10:27 PM
Robert from Jersey City/ New York City

This report, together with the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation report released this month, are a concerted effort to eliminate any New York fiscal connection to the PATH. They are both short-sighted. There is nothing wrong with a subway or metro being cross-subsidized by bridge and tunnel tolls for automobiles. It's good sense. And it is utterly silly for both reports to attack a PATH extension to Newark Airport. Newark Airport is a Port Authority facility that is highly profitable. It makes sense for the Port Authority to build a better transit link to that airport, and for the Port Authority to operate that link. Meanwhile, the operation of New York / New Jersey transit infrastructure is for the greater good of the greater New York metropolitan area -- New Yorkers as well as people like me who live in New Jersey but work in New York and pay taxes in both jurisdictions.

Apr. 28 2014 10:16 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

In all honesty, I don't see much of a different on who will be controlling this. Will fares be lower of NJ Transit takes over, or just go the same way as it is right now? However, the only reason why the PANYNJ is raising the fares on their transit and tolls on their crossings is to help fund for that illegitimate project over at the WTC site. If they only agreed to have the Twin Towers rebuilt instead, they most likely wouldn't even have to resort raising such prices considering how much the official plan has gone up in costs.

Apr. 26 2014 03:36 PM
Judith Targove from Highland Park NJ

Public transportation is a public responsibility which should be supported as are other public functions -- by taxes. Riders should pay a reasonable amount to support the system, but fares cannot be expected to cover all costs; maintenance, modernization, and equipment costs are too expensive to be supported by ridership alone. Modern society needs a way to move people between cities without having to rely on the automobile. NJtransit may not be perfect, but it gets people where they want to go: not always conveniently, and not cheaply, but it offers possibilities not otherwise available.

Apr. 25 2014 05:16 PM
Inwood Resident from NYC

The article fails to mention that PATH has in fact raised fares significantly, to the point where it is now more expensive than the NYC subway. As recently as 2002, the PATH cost only $1 to ride, at a time when the subway fare was 50% more.

The PATH is a metro more than a commuter train. NJ Transit fare from Newark or Hoboken to New York is $5, so one would expect PATH fare to be well below that but slightly above NYC subway, which is exactly what it is. It's fine if you think NJ Transit would do a better job of running PATH, but lay off the question of fares.

Apr. 25 2014 09:31 AM

For two days in a row the folks at WNYC Transportation Alternatives have presented novel ideas that New Yorkers have which will change the commutes of New Jerseyans... for the benefit of New Yorkers. How charming that these folks make these proposals and, frankly and surprisingly, how irresponsible that WNYC does not get a counter-point from anyone in NJ. So, here goes.

As the article makes plain, PATH fares are subsidized by Port Authority bridge and tunnel fares, and no small portion of those are paid by NJ residents, corporations, and others who pass through. While the current system may borrow from Peter (B&T fees) to subsidize Paul (PATH ridership), overall the system (a) accounts for internal fee-shifting among NJ residents and (b) supports public transit at the expense of car ridership. That is a benefit to New Yorkers, New Jerseyans, the economy, and the environment alike.

As to the proposal, the right way forward is with a movement between the Port Authority/ PATH, MTA, NJT, Amtrak, and the Feds to create a meaningfully-integrated regional rail and mass transit infrastructure.

The proposal by the Citizens Budget Commission further balkanizes the system, severing NJT under NJ law from the MTA under NY law. Despite their flagrant political abuses and lack of common sense, the Port Authority is actually well-positioned (under federal law) to serve as the lever integrating all incoming and outgoing transit. Indeed, it is better positioned than any other such agency, as it is (a) theoretically answerable to politicians on both sides and (b) already controls or governs ports of egress.

The MTA is more answerable to NY residents than any of the other agencies I've considered... but that's a benefit to merger and collaboration, not a burden. It means the NY stakeholders are already defined and their agendas clear.

Apr. 25 2014 09:05 AM

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