New Jersey commuters get little information, and face longer wait for restoration

The line for a ferry ride to Jersey from Manhattan. (Joe Pompeo)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

As announcements roll out daily about increased service on New York City subways, residents of New Jersey's Hudson River cities are facing potentially another seven days without their main connection to Manhattan: the PATH Train, which connects to the city via two separate lines ending at 33rd Street and the World Trade Center.

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie said PATH train service was likely to be suspended for seven to 10 days.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the subway-like rail service, has not given the public any timetable for service restoration. But assuming the governor's estimate is a conservative one, that would mean PATH commuters in towns like Hoboken and Jersey City might have to rely on other ways of getting into work through most of next week.

How many riders are we talking about?

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Port Authority data provided by the Regional Plan Association, there are a combined 267,481 daily weekday PATH-train boardings on average at the system's 13 stations. As of 2009, the most recent year for which station-specific data is available, 27,688 daily weekday passengers on average boarded PATH at the Hoboken station, and more than a combined 74,000 on average boarded daily at Jersey City's four PATH hubs—Journal Square, Grove Street, Pavonia-Newport and Exchange Place.

Richard Barone, director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association, said the spillover of disrupted PATH commuters cannot nearly be fully accomodated by the alternate means that currently exist for getting into New York, which include New Jersey Transit bus service via the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; three-person-minimum carpools via the George Washington Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel; and ferry service via private operators like NY Waterway.

"If people have to come into the city, they're going to have to have a lot of patience," said Barone. "People who don't need to come in should look at telecommuting. And I think there are going to have to be some imaginative ways of looking at how to use the full capacity of the bridges and tunnels."

Port Authority has remained silent about the progress of PATH restoration, apart from reminding riders via PATH's Twitter feed that "PATH remains suspended due to widespread flooding in tunnels & multiple stations, and power outages that have shut down signals & switches. We are working around-the-clock with the goal of resuming partial service between NJ and NY as soon as safely possible."

A Port Authority spokesperson would not respond to specific questions about the status of PATH repairs or confirm whether the timeframe suggested by the governor was accurate.

But Barone, who works regularly with Port Authority personnel, said the current PATH outtage was probably the largest on the books aside from 9/11.

Tunnel flooding between the World Trade Center and Exchange Place stations is the main issue with the downtown line, while the 33rd Street line was impacted primarily by substantial flooding in the Pavonia-Newport and Hoboken stations. Both stations will have to be cleared of water, thoroughly cleaned and inspected closely for damage before PATH officials can even begin to work on actually reinstating train service, said Barone. He said its possible the 33rd Street line would be up and running again before service is restored to the World Trade Center.

In the meantime, PATH commuters whose bosses expect to see them in the office on Monday will have to elbow their way onto the buses and ferries—literally.

At the NY Waterway ferry terminal in Jersey City's Paulus Hook neighborhood on Thursday morning, hundreds were queued up for a spot on the two boats that were running to Midtown and the World Financial Center.

Armando Arrieta, a 36-year-old editor at a major news outlet in the city who normally rides the PATH, said he got to the terminal at 8:30 and waited in line 45 minutes for a ticket ($8 one-way, cash only) before getting into another line to board a ferry that didn't end up pulling away from the dock until around 10, making his commute about two hours door-to-door.

"People were really confused," he said. "Everyone was just mulling around trying to figure out which line was for what."

A similar scene played out later that day at the 39th Street terminal in Midtown. It was only a little after 4, but the pier was already filled to the brim with people looking to get a jump on their evening commutes home from work.

A spokesperson for NY Waterway did not immediately have a comment about rider volume when reached via email. But Kevin, a 50-year-old lawyer and daily ferry-rider who would not give his last name, told Capital at the Midtown terminal on Thursday that the crowds had swelled. And he too complained of long waits and confusion.

"It's normally the greatest commute in the world," he said, "but right now, they're just not letting people know what's going on. Total failure."

Some of the comments on NY Waterway's Twitter feed tell a different story: "NY waterway has been a lifeline for getting to work," tweeted Dan Churchill. "1 hour door to door to 54th/park, same as PATH!"

"Under these unprecedented circumstances," said the NY Waterway spokesperson, "staff, captains and crew members have been working tirelessly to ensure that our customers get to where they need to go as quickly and safely as possible."

This article was updated from an earlier version to include a comment from NY Waterway.