Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 24
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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NJ Transit Officials Reassure Council That the Dinky’s Future Is Not in Danger

Anne Levin

At a public meeting of Princeton Borough Council last week, representatives from New Jersey Transit repeatedly told members of Council that the Dinky is not threatened with elimination.

Princeton University purchased the Dinky, the shuttle that connects Princeton Junction station with Princeton, from NJ Transit in 1984. Concerned about the agency’s plans for the shuttle’s future and its contract with Princeton University, council members questioned NJ Transit spokesman Thomas Clark and other representatives for more than two hours. Mr. Clark is the agency’s Regional Manager of Government and Community Relations.

“We have no plans to terminate Dinky service,” Mr. Clark responded in one exchange. “We are not here to tell you that it is in jeopardy. We are going to operate the Dinky in the foreseeable future.”

Princeton University’s Lewis Center project and its proposed Arts and Transit zone are currently under consideration by both the Borough Council and the Township Committee. Many citizens are opposed to the University’s plan to move the Dinky station 460 feet south of its current location opposite McCarter Theatre.

“They have the legal right to move the station and there is a contract in place,” Mr. Clark said more than once when asked about NJ Transit’s support of the plan. Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad asked Mr. Clark if the agency promotes mass transit and sustainable development. When he answered in the affirmative, Ms. Trelstad said, “Somehow I have the sense you are rolling over and playing dead like the favorite puppy dog. If your mission is to support mass transit, why not work with the community and the university to encourage collaboration, and find a better way to make this work?”

According to Mr. Clark, about 1,100 people board the Dinky each weekday. He said ridership has been “relatively flat” for the past decade, and NJ Transit has poured more resources into other lines that have seen growing ridership.

Councilman David Goldfarb pressed Clark repeatedly for reassurance about the line’s future. “Is the Dinky near the top of your list, the middle, or the bottom?,” he asked. Clark responded, “We are not going to end Dinky service.”

Another NJ Transit spokesman, John Leon, stepped in and said, “The Dinky is doing better than the system overall. And bringing those 1,100 people into the Northeast Corridor is important for overall ridership as a feeder into the system. But flat ridership is not a good sign. If we do nothing, ridership could remain consistent or trail off.”

The Dinky costs about $1.8 million a year to operate, Clark said. The service brings in about $977,000 in operating revenue a year, and NJ Transit has to subsidize the difference of approximately $800,000.

Mr. Clark, Mr. Leon and other NJ Transit officials at the meeting said they support the University’s plan to move the Dinky station, and said it would attract more potential riders. When asked by Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller how many new riders they expect the move to attract, Mr. Clark did not provide a figure. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” he said.

Ms. Crumiller asked that the Borough be given a copy of the state Attorney General’s opinion on the contract. The NJ Transit officials responded that they did not have anything in writing and believed the opinion had been expressed verbally.

Asked by Councilman Kevin Wilkes if there was a timeline in place for the Dinky station move, Mr. Clark said no specific date had been set and no request had been made. At the close of the discussion, the NJ Transit officials said they would attempt to provide the Borough with the Attorney General’s legal opinion of the plan, as well as the previous deed to the station property before it was purchased by the University.

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