Trial balloon on PATH cutbacks draws fire

Written by Douglas John Bowen

New Jersey interests, ranging from the mayors of Jersey City and Hoboken to the statewide rail passenger advocacy group, slammed a proposal slipped under the holiday weekend news radar by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA) to consider several options downgrading PATH rapid transit service, which links New York and New Jersey urban points.

The PA, under fire for cost overruns involving major infrastructure projects, hints of related corruption, and of being a political water carrier, released a report suggesting PATH service as it now stands is too luxurious for current needs.

Though insisting no one suggestion was “set in stone,” PA officials are suggesting cutting frequencies, or even eliminating overnight service, with bus service to substitute for any loss of mobility. Private operation is also suggested as an option.

Both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) have vetoed an overhaul of the PA, called for by legislatures in both states. Both state legislatures urged measures including requiring an annual independent audit of the agency, creating an inspector general’s office, and creating whistleblower protection.

The issue of PA efficiency – not just in terms of rail but also covering numerous roads, bridges, tunnels, and airports in the region – became acute early in 2014 after it was revealed that a PA official and an aide to Gov. Christie shut down approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge, apparently for political reasons.

But the 99-page report released last weekend focuses on PATH, saying lower ridership and revenue figures compel a change in operations.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said he and other mayors would fight any of the proposed PATH changes, and noted that while economic recovery in New Jersey has lagged behind the national average, it has scored better in urban portions of New Jersey, where Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and PATH have generated economic development.

“I’d like to think it’s just a byproduct of the commission really not understanding or appreciating the importance of PATH to northern New Jersey,” he said.

Some New Jersey Republican legislative leaders say they’ll support the PA’s latest proposal in the interest of cost savings.

But the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), the statewide rail advocacy group, said the latest recommendations only affirm what the group sees as the PA’s decades-long treatment of PATH as an unwanted stepchild. NJ-ARP President Leonard Resto said service cuts would penalize late-night workers, including many in the service industry, as well as damage businesses reliant on discretionary spending for entertainment.

“Four billion dollars for a PATH terminal; that’s no problem. An extension to an airport-related monorail ride, no problem. But operating a railroad to benefit its customers? Apparently that isn ‘t worth the bother,” Resto observed Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, to Railway Age.