If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu

Written by David Peter Alan, Chair, Lackawanna Coalition
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This situation in NJ Transit’s East End Concourse at Penn Station New York has become all-to-familiar to many of the agency’s customers.

Editor’s Note: Following is an edited response to my editorial of Aug. 10, 2018, on a New Jersey Transit board meeting. See below for further clarification.

I noticed William Vantuono’s criticism in Railway Age of me and my advocacy on behalf of New Jersey Transit’s beleaguered rail riders, [and] am proud to have finally earned his attention. Mr. Vantuono criticized me for my passion on behalf of myself, the organization of which I have been chair (Lackawanna Coalition) for almost 19 years, and our constituents who must live with the mobility that the motorists who run NJ Transit dole out to them, going on with their lives in a spirit of nobility and occasional indignation.

Mr. Vantuono cautioned me to “calm down”; yet … it [is] only this level of passion, fueled by the realization that we never know whether a train will actually appear at the station or not, that jolted him into noticing the reality with which we who depend on transit are compelled to live.

When Mr. Vantuono said that our transit got worse under the Christie Administration, he is correct. But why did he refrain from using the power of his forum at Railway Age to complain about the plight of the Garden State’s rail riders at the time? If things were as bad as he says (and I certainly believe they were), he let the riding public down by remaining silent.

I said that our transit has not improved under the [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy Administration; that it has actually become worse, and I stand by that. I depend on transit, and I ride frequently. So I know. I hope that situation will improve, but there will be no improvement as long as the “powers that be” … ridicule and criticize the efforts of civic advocates like me, who dare to speak up in defense of New Jersey’s forgotten riders, who do not even know whether or not they will arrive at their offices on time, or whether they will be able to follow through on their plans for the day, because they can’t be sure that their train will arrive to pick them up.

It would have been much better if my “calm” and less-impassioned delivery in the past had gotten Mr. Vantuono’s attention, along with that of other members of the media. Sadly, it has not. My constituents and I were regularly ignored. When our transit had gotten so bad that I felt no choice but to make my statement in the manner I used, I received more coverage from the media generally than ever before in my 33 years as an advocate for the riding public. I even got his attention, which has never happened before.

So, whatever badge Mr. Vantuono wishes to pin on me, I will wear it proudly, in the service of my fellow transit riders, who deserve better transit. I am delighted so see that Mr. Vantuono finally cares. That took too many years.

Yes, the policies of the Christie Administration were usually bad for transit riders. So are the policies of the Murphy Administration, which has not made the needed changes and also chooses not to listen to us. The legislature is not much help, either, but I will continue to do everything I can to secure better transit for myself and my constituents.

As Mr. Vantuono advises, I can calm down. I am prepared to engage in calm, rational discussions and negotiation with management, on behalf of the riders, with the Board and management who decide how much transit we may have, and when we may have it. However, that requires a “seat at the table” which we certainly do not have now, and never had in the past.

There is an old saying: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” We, the riders of New Jersey Transit, are sick and tired of being on the menu.

Thank you for finally noticing that we exist, Mr. Vantuono. This is, indeed, a step in the right direction.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, an independent non-profit organization that advocates for better service on the Morris & Essex (M&E) and Montclair-Boonton rail lines operated by New Jersey Transit, as well as on connecting transportation. The Coalition, founded in 1979, is one of the nation’s oldest rail advocacy organizations. In New Jersey, Alan is a long-time member and/or board member of the NJ Transit Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee and Essex County Transportation Advisory Board. Nationally, he belongs to the Rail Users’ Network (RUN). Admitted to the New Jersey and New York Bars in 1981, he is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and a Registered Patent Attorney specializing in intellectual property and business law. Alan holds a B.S. in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1970); M.S. in Management Science (M.B.A.) from M.I.T. Sloan School of Management (1971); M.Phil. from Columbia University (1976); and a J.D. from Rutgers Law School (1981).

Editor’s Note: Alan is referring to this specific passage with a video link to an NJTV news report in “Climbing out of a deep hole” (https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/commuterregional/climbing-out-of-a-deep-hole/?RAchannel=home) in which I took note of his strongly worded address to the NJT board of directors: “The situation at NJT ain’t pretty. Murphy and the agency’s Executive Director, Kevin Corbett, are at the center of a public firestorm that reached a boiling point during NJT’s August board meeting, where tempers flared. Just take a look at this NJTV News report. One speaker was practically foaming at the mouth with vitriol. Calm down, David!” No insult or criticism was intended. David Peter Alan has been advocating for better rail transportation in the State of New Jersey since before NJT was established. His passion is admirable, and in many circumstances needs to be heard by those members of NJT’s board who are political appointees and don’t ride the agency’s trains or buses. He isn’t afraid to “get in your face” and speak his mind. I’ve attended several NJT board meetings during my 26 years at Railway Age and have witnessed Alan’s firebrand method of advocacy—and how uncomfortable it has made some NJT board members. Good for you, David! Keep it up. Perhaps some day you and your fellow unhappy commuters will be able to “calm down” because the service you’re getting is worth what you’re paying at the farebox—and right now, it isn’t. Finally, for the record, I’ve written many editorials on NJ Transit, mostly in defense of the agency, whose services I have been using for more than a quarter-century, and of its people, many of whom I consider rail industry colleagues. — William C. Vantuono

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “is rather adept at putting his mouth where his mouth is,” according to Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. Cartoon courtesy of The Star Ledger.

 

 

Categories: Commuter/Regional, Passenger Tags: , ,