The growing demand for the Hudson-Bergen Light rail has slowly receded in the past week, but still remains much higher than anything seen before the attacks on the World Trade Center.
According to Ken Miller, a spokesman for New Jersey Transit, the light rail saw an increase from 10,000 to 16,000 passengers per day since Sept. 11. The increase is largely a result of the closing of the Exchange Place PATH station, which will remain closed, according to the Port Authority officials, for approximately two more years. Thus, Exchange Place-area employees can walk a few blocks to the Grove Street PATH station or stay in their area and use the Exchange Place Light Rail stop.
Where Light Rail platforms were once spacious and sparsely populated, droves of newcomers are crowding them during the peak hours of commuting. "I've definitely noticed the increase," said Jersey City resident Barry Zion, a daily commuter on the light rail. "Rush hour has been tough. You have to wait for a train sometimes."
The train presently has several stops in Jersey City and Bayonne. It will someday run from Bayonne all the way to Ridgefield in Bergen County.
Officials say they were expecting an increase in traffic to come eventually. The lapse in PATH station service merely expedited the increase, Miller said. "We have been able to accommodate the increased ridership," Miller said. "We were running 13 single-car trains. Now we're primarily working with 7 double-car trains and six single-car trains."
By the fall of 2002, New Jersey Transit plans to complete the Hoboken Light Rail terminal. "There's a bridge and bridge support network that's being constructed across the Longslip Canal that will allow the light rail to go to the new station being constructed in Hoboken," Miller said.
Elevator planned for cliffs
Following the construction of the Hoboken terminal, the light rail will head west toward the Heights in Jersey City, where a station stop will be constructed at the base of the cliff on Ninth Street. To make it accessible for residents living in the on top of the cliffs in the Heights, New Jersey Transit is building an elevator from the base of the cliff to the top. A small pedestrian walkway will connect the elevator to the sidewalk on Paterson Plank Road.
"The way the mountain comes down, the top of the mountain is set back, and the mountain protrudes out," Miller said. "So you have to create this walkway."
A spokesperson for New Jersey Transit presented a diagram of this plan at the last council meeting in order to get approval to do environmental studies on the soil at the base of the cliff. The council passed the resolution, but questioned whether it would conflict with the city's steep-slope ordinance. According to Councilman William Gaughan, of the Heights, this ordinance gives certain restrictions as to how close to the Palisades something can be built. In the past, the Riverview-Neighborhood Association has fought against projects like Millennium Towers that would obstruct the skyline view many of the Heights residents have. Councilman Gaughan advised Joe Reilly, the New Jersey Transit spokesperson, to meet with the neighborhood associations with these designs before continuing.
Moving northbound from the Heights, the light rail will take commuters to the Port Imperial Ferry in Weehawken, turning toward the waterfront from 17th Street in Hoboken. From the Weehawken ferry terminal, the light rail will move westbound, making stops at 49th Street and Bergenline Avenue and 51st Street and Tonnele Avenue. The Weehawken connection is scheduled to be completed by 2003 and the completed trail to Tonnele Avenue in North Bergen is scheduled for 2005, Miller said.
In most cases, public transportation does not make a profit and only survives with the aid of federal and state subsidies as well as revenue from advertising. However, the long-term vision for the light rail promises a profit. In the first year of its operation, the light rail lost $17.4 million.
NJ Transit outsourced all aspects of designing, building, operating, and maintaining the light rail to the 21st Century Rail Corporation for a 15-year contract that cost $2 billion.
No more free rides
Because of the transportation difficulties that arose in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, NJ Transit eliminated some fare requirements for customers temporarily. As of Nov. 1, those fares have returned. As a result, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail customers traveling between Newport and Exchange Place stations who have been able to use PATH QuickCards to travel between those stations only will now be required to purchase HBLR tickets.
The single-trip ticket price is $1.50. A 10-trip ticket is available for $13 and a monthly ticket costs $53.