By Christopher Maag, November 12, 2014
Chris Pedota/Staff Photographer
For months this summer, the Port Authority Bus Terminal was so crowded and NJ Transit Bus 163 to Paramus often ran so late that Robert Celikbas rarely made it home in time to put his baby to bed.
“It was sad. I never saw my daughter,” said Celikbas, 34, an accountant in Manhattan who started looking for jobs in New Jersey to avoid commuting through the terminal.
In the last few weeks, though, something has changed. Lines inside the terminal became shorter. The 163 started leaving on time. And Celikbas now spends an hour and a half at home every night with his 7-month-old daughter.
“I don’t know how they did it,” he said. “But this is definitely better.”
After years of growing congestion — and frustration — at the midtown Manhattan bus station, gridlock reached crisis proportions this summer. Buses were late, lines of commuters snaked around the building, and commuters became enraged.
Officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the building on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets, and NJ Transit, which operates 70 percent of the buses using the terminal, promised immediate changes. A new order started on Sept. 15 that included adding personnel to manage traffic and to redirect bus drivers as needed. Its focus: Keep those buses rolling.
“As long as we keep buses moving through the building, that’s the key to the whole thing,” said Mike Kilcoyne, deputy general manager of bus operations for NJ Transit.
The results, while preliminary, have been dramatic. The number of buses passing though the terminal every weekday evening is up 23 percent, said Cedrick Fulton, director of tunnels, bridges and terminals for the Port Authority
…It’s possible that this week was an anomaly. Given the Veterans Day holiday on Tuesday, some commuters may have stayed home for a four-day weekend. But most commuters interviewed said that the improvements were significant.
…The new system is a temporary, imperfect solution, officials acknowledged. The Lincoln Tunnel opened in 1937, and it feeds a 64-year-old terminal that is at the end of its useful life. Replacing it may take decades. Both operate at near-peak capacity every rush hour. Given the age, deterioration and limited size of both the terminal and the tunnel, transportation experts say that some nights, gridlock is still inevitable.
When jams happen, officials at NJ Transit and the Port Authority say their new system allows them to respond, as opposed to sitting by, helpless.
“Some days we’re going to have problems. We can’t help that,” said Mark Schaff, the Port Authority’s assistant general manager in charge of the terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel. “But hopefully, now we can clear those problems faster and get people through the building faster.”
Some longtime customers remain skeptical. “When it gets bad, they get some Band-Aids and it gets better for a little bit,” said Jennifer Thomas, 46, who has been riding Bus 163 to Paramus for 20 years. “But it’s never consistent. It just goes back to the way it was.”