Weighing the good with the bad when commuting to work from New Jersey

New Jersey Transit’s plan to not raise fares during the next fiscal year is good news for riders, especially commuters. Just how good the news is depends on how satisfied you are with NJ Transit’s service and current fares.

Michael Toth pays $414 monthly to ride New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor Line from the Princeton Junction station in West Windsor Township to Penn Station in New York City.

“Four hundred and fourteen dollars a month seems high, but considering the service I get and how much it would cost me to drive, the price seems fair,” he said.  Toth drives to the Princeton Junction station from his home in nearby Hopewell Township.

“It takes me an hour and 45 minutes to get to work, from leaving my home to sitting down at my desk in the city,” he said.

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“The parking permit I have at the Princeton Junction station is a very valuable thing to have,” he said, noting that there’s a waiting list to obtain those permits. The parking permit costs him $65 monthly.

As far as the the service goes, Toth says it’s inconsistent.

“When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s horrible. When the trains are running well and on time, I can get a lot of work done on the train, both going into the city and coming back.” He paused to laugh briefly and added: “That drops what would be a 15 hour work day to a 13 hour day. And riding the train certainly is less stressful than driving into New York every day, which would be really tough.”

Ask Carol Weiss how she feels and you’ll get a different answer. She says what she pays to ride the Northeast Corridor train “is outrageous.”

Weiss says she takes the train from the Jersey Avenue stop in New Brunswick. “I pay $361 a month for it,” she said. “I’ve been riding that train for 12 years. It was $217 a month when I started.”

She said that the costs of parking and buying Metro cards to use New York’s subway system bring her commuting expenses to $500 a month.

“It’s an enormous amount of money,” she said. “New Jersey Transit just charges too much. The Long Island Railroad charges $230 a month to people who ride into the city from far out on Long Island. The Metro North, which goes to Connecticut, is a better deal than New Jersey Transit, too.”

Not all central or southern New Jersey commuters head to and from New York City each day. Some go to Philadelphia or points nearby. Hopewell Borough resident Steve McMahon is one of them.

McMahon, who has a doctorate in biological sciences, is on the faculty of Jefferson Medical College, at 10th and Locust Streets in Center City. For $190 a month, he rides a SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority) train, five days a week, from the West Trenton station into the city. He’s been making that commute for 12 years.

“I find the price really reasonable, especially in terms of comparing the train to driving,” he said. “I don’t like driving into the city. From 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., the traffic is always backed up. And of course driving isn’t free either, and the cost of it just goes up.”

A plus for Mr. McMahon is that he can park at the West Trenton station for free. “The lot is unpaved, so sometimes it’s muddy, but parking for free at a train station is great,” he said. “There’s usually open spots in the parking lot, but even if it’s full I have no problem, because there’s plenty of free on-street parking nearby, where you can leave the car all day.”

He says “the biggest factor in my getting to work this way is convenience. As soon as I get on the train, I get my computer out and start working while I ride. It’s an hour that can be very productive, both going to work and coming back.”

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