December 7, 2022

Noting That NJ Transit’s Preferred Dinky Alternative Has Major Flaws

To the Editor:

NJ Transit recently released their final report of the Princeton Transitway Study, which proposed a couple different changes that the NJ Transit could make to the Dinky in order to increase its ridership numbers. The alternative preferred by NJ Transit would replace the current heavy-rail-only Dinky corridor with both a transit roadway — allowing buses as well as bikes and pedestrians to use the corridor — and a light-rail line. Furthermore, service frequency would be increased and new stations more accessible from town could be added.

In theory this sounds good; however, most of the service frequency increase would come from the buses — which would arrive every 10 to 15 minutes as compared to the light-rail’s 15 to 30 — and all of the proposed stations in town would be bus only and have the possibility to transport people directly to Princeton Junction without a transfer. Basically, NJ Transit is proposing to set up two services that transport people to the same place, but one — the bus — has frequent service near where people live and the other — the train — less frequent service where people do not.

If NJ Transit were to implement this design, the newly installed light-rail line would have less ridership than the bus, and potentially less than even the current Dinky service. NJ Transit would then ultimately decide that not having light-rail would be both easier and cheaper. Alternatively, they could build the roadway first and then realize that it would be a waste of money to create a competing rail line. Either way, Princeton would be left with a bus corridor, the least preferred alternative according to NJ Transit’s survey.

Clearly, rather than creating two parallel services, NJ Transit should either create two services that serve different goals — for example, a fleet of buses transferring people onto the Dinky as it is now — or create a single service. As residents find a bus-only solution unacceptable, the best alternative would be to extend rail service into town via a tram or streetcar (following the same route that NJ Transit wants to run buses on but with rails embedded into the roads); in addition to not being a bus, trams are generally agreed to be more efficient, environmentally friendly, and cheap in the long run than buses.

I am no engineer, and I am sure that there are issues with both these ideas, but whatever NJ Transit decides to do to the Dinky, they should not waste their money on creating two types of transit covering the exact same use case.

Vihaan Jim
Vandeventer Avenue