HomeWorld NewsNJ Transit gets a bad rap. We don’t know how good we have it. | Opinion – NJ.com
NJ Transit gets a bad rap. We don’t know how good we have it. | Opinion – NJ.com
September 15, 2023
Like so many disgruntled New Jerseyans, I was a longtime, card-carrying NJ Transit detractor.
Be it the weathered trains or cramped buses, NJ Transit had always been a part of my life; a necessary evil striped in orange, blue and magenta. Childhood trips into the city for holidays led to adult commutes for work and concerts. I was well-acquainted with its varying miseries: The delays, the cancellations, the overcrowding — I still don’t fully understand what a “signal problem” is.
But after I graduated from college and moved across the country to Seattle, I came to an unexpected realization: New Jersey commuters don’t know how good they have it!
I knew life in Seattle would be different than anything I knew back in Jersey, but my East Coast elitism really kicked when I first had to learn how to navigate the city through its public transportation system.
Like many big cities (New York notwithstanding) Seattle relies mostly on bus lines. While the buses are plentiful, they are hopelessly subjected to the traffic patterns and driving behaviors of the city’s residents. Yes, Garden State drivers may be aggressive, with 80 mph basically being a left-lane requirement. But count your blessings, New Jerseyans, as the sluggish, road-clogging Seattle drivers are far more maddening.
The one saving grace is the city’s Link Light Rail service, a train line that connects the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport up to the University of Washington, which cuts through Seattle’s downtown corridor. It’s a perfectly modest service that connects the most popular parts of the city. It also completely bypasses any neighborhood that doesn’t house a tourist trap.
It’s a running joke in Seattle that if you’re only looking to travel north or south you shouldn’t have a problem, but going east or west will leave you without many options. What’s worse, there aren’t many options to visit any other of the peripheral cities, unless you’re paying for a pricey Amtrak ticket to Vancouver or Portland, and both of those are about a four-hour ride in either direction.
Meanwhile, NJ Transit connects two of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country in one, 90-minute trip along with dozens of other cities and towns in between. There’s a route to get just about anywhere. You’re in South Amboy and want to venture west to Annandale for some reason? There’s a route for you. Or you’re way down in Bay Head and the only podiatrist who takes your insurance works all the way up in Park Ridge? Hey, it’ll take a while, but you’ll get there!
Again, I understand riding NJ Transit is no picnic. I’ve been subject to more delayed schedules and crammed train cars than I care to recall. The only respite would be grabbing a train during off hours, either on the trains right outside of the rush-hour slam or when I’d be hurrying to grab the last Northeast Corridor train out of Penn Station at 2 a.m. (oh, what I’d give for 24-hour service, but I’m trying to look on the bright side here!).
Yet I must give credit where credit is due. For all of its flaws, NJ Transit connects much of the entire state together in ways that few other areas of the country — even some of the largest metropolitan areas — cannot. Like Seattle, both Los Angeles and Nashville lack the robust train systems that connect the suburbs to the cities.
While commuting via public transit in New Jersey isn’t exactly fun, at least it’s possible.
I think back to being in high school, and how lucky I was to be able to jump on the train after school or on the weekends and go into the city whenever I wanted to, and the rare independence that afforded me. Much of the U.S. isn’t so fortunate.
Having now lived for six years in Seattle — where owning a car is non-negotiable just to leave the city — I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much trouble to wait a few extra minutes for the privilege to travel freely without the expenses and responsibilities of owning a gas guzzler.
In a country where cars are often prioritized over people, it’s a familiar fight to hear people gripe about public transit only to sit stuck in traffic on the highway. I suggest planning a day trip where you don’t use your car at all in an effort to see how robust NJ Transit’s service really is. Maybe take the train down to Asbury Park, or plan a date night to a restaurant near a train station.
Sit back, try to ignore the mysterious stain on the seat next to you and realize you may have been taking NJ Transit for granted all along — until the next delay.