N.J. Transit Users Study Their Options in Case of Train Strike
By JASON GRANT
NEWARK — Some New Jersey commuters are planning to add an hour to their 60-to-90-minute slog into Manhattan. Others intend to pay for one of the more expensive private buses that service their suburbs. Still others said they would wake up at the crack of dawn and shoulder their way into the exasperated crowds jamming onto PATH trains in Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark.
And a few said it would be work from home or bust.
The angst is growing across New Jersey as the threat of a strike by rail workers on Sunday nears and commuters are preparing for the worst.
In talks at a hotel here on Tuesday, New Jersey Transit and its rail workers made progress but did not reach an agreement, officials said.
Nancy J. Snyder, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, said the talks were “productive and positive.” But she added that there was “still more work to be done.”
Stephen Burkert, a spokesman for the unions, said both sides appeared to have left the talks on Tuesday in a “positive mood.”
“I am hopeful that we will find a solution,” he said.
Negotiations are expected to resume on Thursday.
But none of the play-by-play seemed to matter much to a dozen or so commuters on platforms and on a Newark-to-Manhattan train on Tuesday morning. They just wanted something done before a strike occurs.
Some said they had been complaining about it nonstop at work, or checking news reports incessantly, or coming up with one contingency plan after the next. A few have begun to gingerly explain to their bosses that they might be getting to work an hour or two — or maybe three — later than usual.
“I’m going to talk to my boss about it right now,” Elianna Markovic, who works in information technology, said as she stood on a crowded platform. “Hopefully, there will be a bus. But I’m really concerned the buses are going to be terrible, too.”
Jasmine Boddie, who lives in Paterson and works as a media manager in Manhattan, said she would drive to Newark and catch a PATH train at Pennsylvania Station there. But it will not be easy.
“I think it will add at least an hour to my commute,” she said, her face wrinkling up some. “Because the PATH is really crowded already in the morning, and trying to step onto the train can be hard, especially if all the other passengers are going to have to use the PATH.”
At her small Manhattan office, she added, she has co-workers who live in Bloomfield and Montclair, and they have been bemoaning at lunch what a strike will mean for them.
“The general mood,” Ms. Boddie said, “is some of my co-workers will be connecting in online from home. They’re just not going to do the commute.”
Under its contingency plans for a strike, New Jersey Transit has said it will be able to handle only about 40,000 of the 105,000 commuters who travel by train to New York City each weekday.
The plans include extra service on more than two dozen New Jersey Transit bus routes, which would continue to be served during a strike, and adding five park-and-ride locations where commuters could ride a bus to the city, ferry terminals or PATH stops. Officials have said rail tickets will be honored on buses, the light rail, private buses, PATH and New York Waterway ferries.
Officials have also said commuters should plan to car pool, leave for work early or work from home.
Rail workers have been working without a new contract since 2011. The unions have proposed wage increases of about 17 percent over six and a half years, with workers contributing part of their pay, up to 2.5 percent, toward health coverage.
Agency officials have said the unions’ demands would amount to higher costs of about $183 million and could require fare increases.
Betsy Newberry, of Bellville, who teaches communication skills at medical schools, mostly in New York, said her two-hour commute would almost surely grow harder if the strike occurred.
Ms. Newberry said that she might try a private bus line that services Bellville, but that she was not looking forward to it. She has arthritis, and said the bus line had no electronic platform that would lower to the ground to help her climb aboard.
She was quick to note on Tuesday morning, as she rode a New Jersey Transit train in a comfortable seat, that news reports said Gov. Chris Christie was heading out of state on Tuesday for a short vacation.
“I hope he is taking the train,” she said, adding: “What are the New Jersey Transit C.E.O.s doing? Are they turning down raises and paying more money for their health insurance?”
Doug Stroup, a public relations professional, said he hoped for the best. He commutes daily from Newark to Manhattan on New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor line.
“I think everyone has to give — it’s not one side or the other — everyone has to give something to get an agreement done,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do if they strike. I’m a problem solver; I’ll find a way.”