After a long day at work, Jersey City Heights resident Jennifer Bainbridge says sometimes she just wants to catch a cab home. A PATH commuter, Bainbridge takes the train from 23rd Street in New York to Journal Square. From there, she usually takes the No. 87 NJ Transit bus home.
“But if it’s raining or snowing or freezing, I don’t feel like standing around waiting for the bus,” said Bainbridge. “I just want to get home quickly, so I’ll wait for a cab. But the funny thing is, most nights, I probably end up waiting longer for a cab than I would [have waited] for the 87.”
Over the last three years, waiting time at the Journal Square taxi stand has become a top quality-of-life complaint for PATH and NJ Transit commuters who live in the communities surrounding the transit hub.
“A lot of people from all over the city use that stand.” – John Lynch
Under a plan announced Wednesday afternoon by Paul Barna, director of the city’s Commerce Department, the city has designated the Journal Square queue to be an “open” taxi stand during the evening hours of 6 p.m. to midnight.
Before Wednesday, the Journal Square taxi stand was a “closed” stand, Barna explained, meaning only a limited number of designated taxis could pick up passengers. Prior to the changes announced Wednesday, only 36 cabs in the entire city were permitted to service the Journal Square taxi stand, even during peak hours when demand for cabs is highest. Now, any Jersey City-licensed cab company can make pick ups from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Although the new rules took effect Dec. 14, they expire on Feb. 28, 2012.
“We are opening the stand to allow other cabs to come in to help with the congestion,” Barna said, adding that there are 104 legally-designated cabs in Jersey City.
The City Council unanimously approved the temporary changes at its meeting Wednesday night.
The 30-minute wait
Barna said the Journal Square taxi stand, on Kennedy Boulevard, is one of three “closed” taxi stands in Jersey City, with the other two located near the Exchange Place and Grove Street PATH stations.
Barna said his office has not received any complaints about long wait times at these other two stands. The same, however, cannot be said of the Journal Square taxi stand, which has been the subject of hundreds of mass e-mails that have been sent to Barna and other city officials over the last three years.
While the wait time for a cab can be as little as a couple of minutes, it’s not uncommon to wait 10 or 15 minutes or longer for a taxi during evening rush hours and late evenings on the weekends. Wait times can be longer when the weather is bad because commuters who might otherwise walk home may opt to catch a cab instead. Wait times may reach 25 to 30 minutes.
“When it’s snowing or raining, people who would normally walk five, six blocks, will go for a cab,” said Barna. “When you have inclement weather, everything gets backed up. There’s no way I can predict that adding additional cars will speed up the lines.”
John Lynch, a Jersey City Heights resident who has often complained to Barna about the Journal Square cab stand, said this is an important quality-of-life issue that affects hundreds of residents.
“This doesn’t just affect people who live in the Heights or Journal Square,” said Lynch. “A lot of people from all over the city use that stand. You have people – senior citizens, women with kids – who live as far away as McGinley Square, West Side Avenue, or Greenville trying to get home from that station. Even people who live between downtown and Journal Square are sometimes standing in that line.”
Barna admitted the city has seen an increase in taxi ridership in the Journal Square area.
The Department of Commerce, Barna said, has also re-instituted cab-sharing at Journal Square. Cab-sharing allows taxi drivers to pick up a second passenger – with the permission of the first passenger – if the two customers are going in the same direction.
Cab-sharing, which is also done at the PATH station in Hoboken, gets mixed reviews from passengers and drivers, however. It moves passengers out of the cab line faster and drivers make more money because they can take multiple fares at one time. But drivers can sometimes ignore the complaints of passengers who object to additional passengers. And Lynch admitted some drivers can play fast and loose with their directions.
“Some drivers would take advantage of the situation,” said Lynch. “They would just pile people in their cars. There are many sections of the Heights. I’ve found myself in a taxi with passengers going to Tonnelle; but I live over on Jefferson.”
Bainbridge, who said she doesn’t mind the cab-sharing concept, welcomed the city’s changes. However, she was dismayed to hear that they are temporary.
“It seems this has been a big enough problem that [the changes] should be permanent, not temporary,” she said. “And if they are temporary, they shouldn’t end until the spring. Having these changes end on Feb. 28 doesn’t make sense. It’s still cold. We still have snow and bad weather. And we know the weather is one of the factors that adds people to the cab line.”
Lynch agreed. “I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised the city did this,” he said. “I think it’s a good start. And I thank Paul Barna and [Ward C City Councilwoman] Nidia Lopez for their work getting this done. But I think this trial period should at least continue through April, when the weather starts to get a little warmer.”
Barna said, “This is going to be a test to see what happens.”
In February, the city will evaluate the temporary changes and decide whether or not to make them permanent.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.