Train of thought

Residents weigh in on PATH service

It seems that one of the perennial gripes of many downtown residents – in addition to parking – is the PATH train, that much maligned mass transit system that lost of people love, but many also love to hate.
To be fair, customers who were interviewed last week about their feelings regarding PATH service all agreed the system is, in many ways, better than the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subway system across the river in New York. But, as Hamilton Park-area resident Kevin Donaldson pointed out, “That’s like damning it [the PATH system] with faint praise.”
The complaints ran the gamut.


“You don’t hear me complaining.” – Tom Binder

There were some obvious ones – overcrowding, filth, rude fellow customers. And some that were less obvious. (One woman was angry about a passenger who had an uncaged bird with her one day last year.)
“I almost never get a seat, it’s so crowded. I feel like anytime I’m riding, it’s crowded,” said Cara Fruge, who lives near the Grove Street station and rides the PATH each day into Midtown. “Even when I leave work late, the trains are packed.”
Given the crowds on the trains, customers, like Heather Hinds wanted to know “when are they going to expand the system? Do they have plans to go north of 33rd Street, east of 6 Avenue [in Manhattan], or deeper into Hudson County?”
“The overcrowding is kind of bad, but what I want to know is why the cars are so littered,” asked Dave Fields, repeating a question that was asked by at least five or six other riders last week. “Sometimes I get on, and there’s a sea of coffee cups, newspapers, wads of tissue. God knows what else.”
“And what’s with the air conditioning in the new cars?” asked Glenn Michaels. “It’s [winter]!”

Port Authority: Hey, we’re doin’ our best here

Naturally, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a private agency that manages and subsidizes the PATH system, has heard many of these complaints before.
Requests for new stations are a particularly familiar refrain. When asked if there are any plans to create new PATH stations and extend the system, Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsici said, “No. There are no plans to build any new stations at this time.” But, he added, “Under the Port Authority’s capital plan we are investing millions of dollars and other resources to modernize our technical infrastructure. This will enable us to increase rider capacity by 20 percent because it will enable us to safely run trains closer together.”
About $580 million will be spent to update old mechanical train controls on the 101-year-old system. In their place the system will get new computerized signals, a process that will continue through 2017. It will allow trains to run more frequently and handle more passengers.
Other obsolete components in the system are also being replaced with modern upgrades and the Port Authority has been slowly retiring its old fleet of railcars with new trains.
The Port Authority, Marsico added, will eventually be able to accommodate 10-car trains on the Newark-World Trade Center line, which will also increase rider capacity.
Like most mass transit systems in the U.S., PATH operates with a deficit. Budgeted PATH expenses for this year total $242.5 million, while revenues are projected to be $108 million. That means the projected loss this year comes to $134.5 million.
Expanding the system beyond its current stations would clearly require a heavy investment of capital – and probably higher fares. Currently, PATH fares pay for roughly 43 percent of the system’s operating expenses; the rest is subsidized by the Port Authority, which also makes money off the airports and other transportation. The base one-way fare in $1.75.
As for some riders’ other beefs, Marsico said that “cleaning routines have not changed. But the winter weather takes its toll as dirt is tracked onto cars faster because of the persistent snow, sleet, and mud conditions.”
All trains, he added, have heat and are staffed by both a conductor and an engineer who “respond quickly to reported problems and correct them.”

Not everybody’s unhappy

Some people who spoke about the PATH service had only great things to say about it.
“I have no problems with the PATH. It gets me where I need to go. I actually find it pretty reliable,” said Diane Michaels who lives in the Newport area and works in Manhattan.
“I like it,” agreed Nita Jois, who also lives in the Newport section. “It’s not like driving your own car. But it’s a good train.”
“Look,” said Tom Binder, who lives with his wife and son in the Harsimus Cove community near ShopRite, “the trains are more or less on time. They run 24 hours a day. It extends into five different cites…[and] lots of neighborhoods. It’s less than two bucks a ride, full price. Is there room for improvement? Sure, there’s always room for improvement. But I’ve been happy with it. You don’t hear me complaining.”
“If you want a limo ride,” quipped Havre Diaz one evening at the Grove Street station, “hire a car service.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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