Clever Commute: A View From Trenton Hearing

Clever Commute’s Josh Crandall weighs in with his take on this week’s Assembly Transportation Hearing in Trenton…

The event was not as dramatic or confrontational as I thought it might be. There seemed to be an air of respect and familiarity between NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein and the Transportation Committee. (when you read his bio, it becomes clear. Weinstein is an insider for sure). That being said, Committee Chairman John S. Wisniewski did apply some pressure to NJ Transit.

The fact of the matter is that some of the infrastructure is 80 years old…and a total replacement could take billions of dollars. So, there is no easy answer…especially in a very challenging economic environment.

I think NJ Transit (especially from a “trains” perspective) needs to take a good hard look at itself and ask a few questions:

1. Does our personal technology approach resemble that of the MTA?

Specifically, is NJ Transit data made available to “app” developers…so they can build the innovative apps? Or is NJ Transit time and money being spent building proprietary solutions? Here’s some food for thought.

2. Should we re-prioritize our initiatives (and therefore our resources) on just a few key things? Put another way: If on-time performance has fallen below 90%…should they really be doing things like Quiet Cars? Sure, they’re nice-to-have, but certainly not more important than actually getting to/from your destination.

There is a reason “no-frills” airlines exist. I acknowledge some of the market dynamics are different between trains and planes…but haven’t we learned anything from Southwest and other “value” carriers?

3. Are we innovating where it makes sense to do so?
As an entrepreneur who bootstrapped a start-up during this economic decline, I know how hard it is to innovate (and execute) with limited resources. But I also know that difficult times bring out the very best, often the most creative solutions.

WiFi on the train? I like the thinking…but I already have it (via aircard). I wonder about NJT’s business model here…and the actual ability to generate meaningful revenue. What other opportunities are out there? You’ll find out by listening to the customer, but not necessarily addressing the list in top-to-bottom fashion. That just may not be a viable approach.

Yes…balancing #2 and #3 are hard to do simultaneously, but, I believe James Weinstein is a smart and experienced man who can take care of this.

4. Are we sure we are engaging our customers properly?
MTA (incl LIRR and Metro North) has Permanent Customer Advisory Council. PATH has PATH Patron Advisory Committee. Does NJT even have a similar body? I could not find any evidence of one.


Crandall has some ideas for NJ Transit. What are yours — what kinds of changes would make the most difference for your commute?