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NJ Transit bus rider's commute from hell and 5 stages of grief

njtransitlogo081610_optBY ADRIENNE VOGT
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

Jersey commuters, the past two weeks or so have not been easy. In fact, they’ve been downright exhausting.

Since Hurricane Sandy hit, we’re still dealing with a transit system thrown into disarray, hours-long lines, commutes at a standstill and utter confusion in Port Authority.

I completely understand that our area just went through a devastating natural disaster, and my thoughts are with the people who've had their lives upended because of it. I commend those who've been working nonstop to help others patch their lives back together. I truly believe everyone is doing the best they can.

That being said, I haven't been commuting nearly as long as the majority of passengers, so I can only offer a limited perspective. But from what I've seen and whom I've spoken to, the past weeks have been nothing short of a commuter’s worst nightmare — particularly the morning of Nov. 12, with some trips to New York taking up to 5 hours because of a series of terrible accidents near the Lincoln Tunnel.

I don't wish to offend anyone who disagrees, but as I slowly watched my usual commute from Old Bridge to New York descend into madness, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the emotions on the bus exactly mirrored the Kübler-Ross model — more commonly know as the Five Stages of Grief. You may be able to relate to my outline of the morning's events/stages below:

1) Denial: The day started out as usual. I’d briefly heard that there was an accident at the Lincoln Tunnel, but I figured it’d be cleared by the time I was up there. I boarded the bus from Old Bridge around 8:30 a.m., since I typically get into work at 10. The bus started inching along in traffic around 8:50 a.m., which isn’t out of the ordinary. But by around 9:30 a.m., this turned into a palpable sense of frustration throughout the bus. First apologetic email to work sent.

My thoughts: “Oh, this isn’t good. I’m going to be late to work again. Why is this happening on a Monday morning, of course?”

2) Anger: Passengers start squirming in their seats. Some are arching their necks to see out of the front window or furiously looking around at the others wondering WHAT IS GOING ON. Some are audibly sighing and saying, “This is ridiculous … ::mumble mumble typical NJ Transit mumble mumble::” Others are getting feisty. A lady in the front row starts arguing with the bus driver. One man storms up to the front and is obviously ready to lead a full takeover of the bus.

My thoughts: “Can we just go back home? I’m kind of scared. Yet extremely entertained.”

3) Bargaining: It’s Hour 2, and things are getting bleak. Desperation is in the air. Some begin to realize that the bus driver is not willing to readily hand over the keys on the middle of the Turnpike. People suggest alternate routes to the driver. He refuses. Probably because we are wedged between about 40 other buses on all sides. The same man from earlier storms back down the aisle, puts on his jacket, and declares that he wants to get off the bus and walk back to Secaucus Junction to take the train. No one is willing to join him. Probably because there is no feasible way to physically jump from the Turnpike to the train station. He just stands up for awhile.

Thoughts: “Dude, just sit down. Also, good thing I packed these crackers, yum.”

4) Depression: It’s Hour 3, and there is an all-out sense that things are hopeless.

It’s taken 2 hours to get from Secaucus to the GWB/Lincoln Tunnel toll, which usually takes about 5-10 minutes. Girl behind me starts crying on the phone to her mom because she is missing class. She tells her mom that she is hyperventilating and cannot breathe. Sure.

Second apologetic email to work sent.

Thoughts: “Can you please be quiet so I can at least take a nap?”

5) Acceptance: Everyone is silent and sitting languidly in their seats, fully realizing that this was quite possibly the longest commute of their lives. We make it through the tunnel and into New York. I don’t think anyone’s been happier to finally get off the bus and breathe in the stale air of Port Authority. I would’ve kissed the floor, but I wasn’t really in the mood to contract some sort of incurable disease from it. It is now after 12 p.m.

Thoughts: “I could’ve taken a trip to D.C. or Boston by now.”

I stepped into my office at 12:30 p.m.

Thoughts: “Lunch time.”

Perhaps your commute was about the same. Unfortunately, this could very well happen again.

New Jersey Transit, the nation’s largest statewide mass-transit network, is still unsure when full service will resume, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. A substation in Kearny and a separate operations center suffered extensive flood damage, said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman.The North Jersey Coast and Gladstone Branch lines remain shut down as of this writing, with many more lines running only limited service. NJTransit.com has constant updates and alternate routes available.

After Monday's debacle, where the Port Authority ticket lines intertwined with bus lines that wrapped around entire floors twice and someone in the middle of the floor kept yelling, "HOW ARE YOU CHARGING FOR TICKETS? WE JUST HAD A HURRICANE!", the commuting process is slowly progressing back toward a sort of routine.

Gov. Chris Christie, who nixed the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project in 2010, told commuters: “Sorry. We had a disaster. Take the ferry. It won’t take you two to three hours.”

But for many residents who have no such alternative options, that’s easier said than done.

Janna Chernetz, New Jersey advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said that the state needs to find better funding for its transportation.

“This situation really highlights that. Especially from an economic standpoint — transportation is the lifeblood of the economy,” she told Businessweek.

John Daidone, 51, of Maplewood, had a 5-hour commute to his job in Union Square Monday morning, but was able to take the train when his line resumed service later in the day.

“I literally wanted to kiss that seat,” he said to Businessweek. “My God, if anyone ever hears me cursing out the train again, they have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Things may not be back to “normal” for a long time. So until then, sit back, relax and be grateful you even have a ride.

 

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