It’s no secret for those that follow our blog that for the past 17 years I have been a regular multi-modal commuter (usually train + bike on the bridge) from my home in Burlington County, NJ to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s office in Center City. NJ TRANSIT’s RiverLINE light rail train has been very reliable for years, running on or close to schedule. The line is also bike friendly and connects with the NE Corridor trains in Trenton. The RiverLINE was a factor that my wife and I considered when we moved into our home in 2006.
However, over the past few months a combination of breakdowns and operator shortages have made the line less than reliable. At first, it involved waiting for the next train but eventually I learned to check the NJ TRANSIT App for service disruptions before I left home or work. The last straw was when NJ TRANSIT cut back service by 40% using the Sunday Schedule every day. I have had to adjust my commuter routine, switching at times to the more costly and less frequent (but more reliable) bus service.
Taking the bus has been an eye-opener. During evening peak hours I can catch the 417 Express at 16th and Market St to the Willingboro Town Center. The one-way trip to Willingboro is $6.10, twice the cost of the PATCO-RiverLINE combination. Yes, you can take your bike, but you have to stow it in the luggage bay underneath, which is dirty and takes a bit of practice to open and close the doors. I suggest wearing gloves and don’t be afraid to ask the driver for help.
What surprised me is that the bus is running nearly empty, averaging about 3-6 passengers on the trips I have taken. By comparison daily ridership on the RiverLINE is about 5,000 riders a day. Unlike most other NJ TRANSIT buses, the 417 originates across the street from 30th Station. There are no signs or schedules directing Amtrak Passengers to NJ TRANSIT buses. It seems like an easy step to increase visibility and ridership.
I still love the RiverLINE, we don’t react to ordinary but essential transit service like we did for I-95 because many of our leaders don’t see transportation through an equity lens. However, NJ State Senator Troy Singleton has been pressuring NJ TRANSIT and the operator, Alstom to fix the problem. I am hoping for a quick restoration of reliable regular services.