When it comes to taxi service at Journal Square, the city giveth, and the city taketh away. And depending on your perspective, that’s either a good or bad thing.
A short-term solution to alleviate long waiting lines of customers at the taxi stand outside the transit hub ended on Feb. 29. It was set to be extended through the end of June until some taxi owners lobbied city officials and complained that the solution took money out of their pockets.
A city engineer is now looking at ways the cab stand can be reconfigured, which drivers say will alleviate wait times for tired passengers who want a lift in the evenings, when long lines are common.
But some passengers question whether a redesign of the taxi stand is enough. They’re worried that long lines and wait times will again become the norm now that efforts to add more cabs to the taxi stand have stalled.
Opened, and shut
Many residents have criticized the taxi stand situation at the Journal Square transit hub for years. While there are times throughout the day when commuters can quickly catch a cab, long lines are not uncommon during evening rush hours, late nights, weekend nights, or during bad weather. During these times, lines can be so long that commuters can wait 15 minutes or longer and 30-minute waits aren’t unheard of.
In December, the city’s Commerce Department announced a temporary plan to add cabs to the stand during peak hours. Under the plan, Journal Square went from being a “closed” taxi stand to an “open” stand during the hours of 6 p.m. to midnight.
Prior to the change, the stand could only be serviced by the 35 or so cabs licensed to be there. Other Jersey City cabs were not permitted to make pick-ups. The change made in December “opened” the cab stand and allowed any Jersey City-licensed cab company to make pick ups from 6 p.m. to midnight.
But this change was temporary and was only in effect from Dec. 18 through Feb. 29. Last week the city was poised to extend the “open” stand experiment through the end of June through a council resolution. Then a cab owners’ association brought it to a screeching halt.
The taxi stand is once again closed except to those 35 licensed cabs regardless of the time – which for residents could mean the return of longer wait times during peak hours.
“Those changes were made without the input and involvement of the drivers, and that was a problem. I think we have to get their input,” said Ward C Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, who represents the Journal Square area. “I think the ultimate solution will be to have an open stand. But I want to see if we can come up with another solution that satisfies both sides first.”
Lopez holds periodic meetings with cab owners and members of the community about the taxi stand.
“I think the ultimate solution will be to have an open stand.” – Nidia Lopez
The owners of the cabs with exclusive access to the taxi stand vehemently opposed the “open” stand experiment. Since December, they have argued that the problem isn’t with the number of taxis serving the stand, but rather the configuration of the stand.
“There are 14 pedestrian crossings and seven traffic lights around Journal Square. It takes our drivers 10 to 12 minutes to drive around the block,” said Bill Girgis, president of the Journal Square Taxi Owners’ Association. “What we need is a place where we can wait so we don’t have to spend the time going around the block.”
A city engineer is now exploring whether cabs assigned to Journal Square can line up in one unbroken queue, the way taxis do downtown at the Grove Street PATH Station.
One possibility is for cabs to line up on Kennedy Boulevard further than the current end of the taxi stand. Another is for cabs to use a currently closed bus lane at the NJ Transit bus depot. A third option is to somehow give cabs access to an area on Kennedy Boulevard where there is currently metered public parking.
Girgis said that before the meters were installed, this area served as a sort of holding area for cabs waiting to pull up to the taxi stand a few yards away. With the meters in place only a few taxis can sit in this area now.
But resident and city activist John Lynch was dismayed to learn that the Journal Square taxi stand is once again closed.
“While there are flaws with the street design, it is not the reason for long lines at peak times,” Lynch stated. “It does not take a rocket scientist or engineer to understand if there are more customers than taxis during peak hours, we have a lack of taxis providing service…While from time to time, even with the taxi stand open, there have been lines, it was still much better than in the past.”
Girgis, however counters that the considerable costs associated with operating a cab company make it difficult for both owners and drivers to earn a living.
While sympathetic to their situation, Lynch said, “The onus is on our council to ensure that the residents are not once again subjected to long lines.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.