Earlier this month, Ronnie Hakim, formerly the head of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, took over executive direction of NJ Transit from Jim Weinstein, the guy in charge during the Super Bowl mess. Sounds boringly administrative, I know, but I decided to write an editorial on what this might mean for South Jersey. There’re a few reasons for this. The first is that PATCO is basically imploding. It’s one of two lonely direct rail links from South Jersey into Philadelphia (i.e. where a lot of the jobs are), and used by a few tens of thousands of people everyday. But decades of deferred maintenance and a miserably executed track reconstruction schedule on the Ben Franklin Bridge have resulted in breakdowns, overcrowding, and a general bad vibe from the once-stellar rail line.
The other reason is because the “N” in NJ Transit means New and not North. We might not have as many people as North Jersey, but South Jersey’s got over 2 million people who need access to good public transit. Considering that Philadelphia is becoming a huge job center at the same time that ridership is up to 60-year highs, we could use some attention from the statewide transit agency to make sure we can intelligently provide those transit options. Think better coordination with PATCO and NJ Transit’s River Line, Atlantic City line, and bus assets.
You can read the full article on the Courier Post’s website or below, since they usually archive content after 30 days.
A change is coming at the top of New Jersey’s statewide transit agency that represents an opportunity for South Jersey’s public transportation assets to gain some much-needed attention.
On Feb. 18, the executive director of NJ Transit, Jim Weinstein, announced he would be stepping down. Taking over his position is Ronnie Hakim, previously executive director at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. This presents a massive opportunity to address transportation woes in New Jersey. Even more, this is an opportunity to address transportation issues specific to South Jersey.
Hakim is held in high regard for her work at the turnpike authority. As the head of an organization whose responsibilities include overseeing the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, two highly used roadways that span the entire length of the state, she is already familiar with transportation issues that face South Jersey. During her tenure, she oversaw two parkway projects in South Jersey: widening the road south of Toms River and removing traffic lights at exits 9, 10 and 11.
Moving from roadways to railways, Hakim will encounter a different transit landscape in South Jersey than North Jersey. NJ Transit currently operates only two lines south of Trenton: the Atlantic City Line, which runs between the shore resort and Philly’s 30th Street Station, and the River LINE, which runs between Camden and Trenton. Each has its issues.
The Atlantic City Line offers no trains between 8:10 and 10:42 a.m., a large window during the morning rush. Meanwhile, the River LINE, which serves nearly 10,000 riders daily, makes its last full runs at 9 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, hampering the line’s usefulness to second- and third-shift workers as well as those making late-night trips.
The only other rail option is PATCO, run by the Delaware River Port Authority. Once a trusty mainstay of the South Jersey commuting experience, the line has declined deeply in quality over the past few years. From an ill-advised construction schedule that has left riders stranded at stations during rush hour to motor failures that caused the evacuation of two trains in a single day, PATCO is in desperate need of help. As the only frequent, direct rail link into Philadelphia from New Jersey, it is used by more than 36,000 riders daily. Unfortunately, issues of maintenance and waning reliability threaten its popularity, which, after a decade of yearly ridership increases, saw its first decline in 2013 of nearly 2 percent.
South Jersey may have a smaller population than the counties up north, which have historically received the lion’s share of attention from NJ Transit, but we still have a need for efficient public transportation to and from the heart of our metropolitan area.
Philadelphia is increasingly becoming a job center for companies and institutions whose employees are much more transit-minded than the generation before them, and older suburbs connected to public transportation are consequently seeing a renaissance. This trend is so solid that there has already been talk of creating a light-rail line from Glassboro to Camden along old freight tracks in the style of the River LINE. The need for good public transportation in South Jersey is only going to grow in the future, so I hope that Hakim can work with us to offer South Jerseyans the best possible alternatives to traffic and gridlock.