Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reporters ignore long-suffering bus commuters

The Port Authority provides a clean, comfortable enclosure for NJ Transit customers waiting for the No. 165 and No. 166 buses at the agency's midtown bus terminal in Manhattan, above. The four fold-down, spring-loaded seats are thinly disguised torture devices banned by the Geneva Convention.

The terminal has finally gotten what it has needed for years: A listing of all bus departures with route number, time and, most important, the platform number where the bus can be boarded. Platforms change, especially late at night. A ticket clerk said the Bus Terminal Interactive Map, which has a touch screen, was installed about a month ago. I saw two of the three in the terminal, but none for commuters using the main entrance on Eighth Avenue.


The Record's transportation reporters, including Karen Rouse and Road Warrior John Cichowski, believe NJ Transit bus riders are the lowest of the low.

They have routinely avoided reporting about local and Manhattan bus service for years or the long-suffering riders who have had to endure creaking coaches, packed buses and long lines at the midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

They also have ignored complaining letters to the editor, so it was a surprise to see Editoral Page Editor Alfred P. Dublin devoting part of his opinion column to conditions at the terminal (Friday's A-19).

But Doblin's main focus was contrasting the aging terminal with the new marble concourse of the World Trade Center's PATH station, and he ran a photo of a leaking ceiling for emphasis.

Not that bad

That photo is misleading. I took the No. 165 bus to have lunch in the city on Friday, and the main public spaces are clean and in good condition, with a variety of food and coffee concessions, and a connection to the city subway system.

And you can't beat the senior round-trip fare of only $3.80.

The real problems are the cramped enclosures at platforms where riders board buses, forcing almost everyone to stand in lines that can stretch down escalators and around lower levels.

And for many years, until touch screens listing buses and platforms were installed about a month ago, occasional terminal users often wandered around searching for the departure point of their New Jersey-bound buses.

Shouldn't the Port Authority be encouraging commuters to take the bus, given mounting traffic congestion at the Hudson River crossings, and improve conditions at the terminal?

This photo was taken during rush hour on a Friday night in the summer of 2012 at the midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal, where the line from an upper-level platform stretched down an escalator to the second level, above. 

Taking the bus

On Friday, I was lucky to get a No. 165 Turnpike Express in Hackensack, and reached the Manhattan terminal in under 30 minutes. 

My return on the 1:40 p.m. No. 165 local to Oradell (from Platform 212) was torture. Passengers filled 46 of the 49 seats.

I asked the driver about letters to the editor, complaining about long lines at the terminal during rush hour, and he said he didn't know what caused them.

The trip stretched to 1 hour and 40 minutes, thanks to Ridgefield Park police, who closed one lane of Route 46 for a house construction crew, adding at least 20 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The scheduled travel time to Main and Anderson streets in Hackensack is under an hour.

Earlier, on Boulevard East, the driver passed stops requested by three passengers, telling two women who were together, "At least it's downhill [to the stop he passed]."

Buses jockeyed with several private jitneys, often referred to as the "Spanish bus," which provides seats to and from the city riders can't find on NJ Transit.  

In bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 46, the driver of the No. 165 cleaned his nails, and then stopped to pick up two passengers standing about 50 feet apart, even though I saw no bus-stop signs near them.

Later, he allowed a man who said he had no money to board.

Today's paper

The death of Wallington Fire Capt. Gregory Barnas has gotten a tremendous amount of coverage since he died on Feb. 28, including Friday's Local front, where a headline referred to a "hero's funeral"; nearly all of Page 1 and all of A-6 today.

Today's edition carries a front-page column by Mike Kelly, whose first sentence is puzzling:

"Big funerals say a lot about small towns." Really?

Putting aside whether Barnas is or isn't a "hero" for going out to fight a restaurant fire -- then falling off the roof and dying -- none of the coverage addresses long-standing concerns of residents in towns with volunteer firefighters. 

Town officials shortchange residents by not having professional firefighters, such as those in Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood. 

The Record reports today that Barnas, 57, also was a full-time captain with the Jersey City Fire Department, and a member of the fire department in Waymart, Pa., where his family has a vacation home (A-1).

Wasn't he stretched a little too thin?

At the Ninth Avenue end of the bus terminal in Manhattan, a memorial to firefighters and police officers who died responding to the 9/11 attack on America, above and below.

'Human depravity'

Today's Local section relies heavily on Law & Order news (L-1, L-2, L-3 and L-6), meaning Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza couldn't find legitimate municipal news to fill all of that space.

Another in a series of accident photographs, showing a car door or doors that were removed to reach an injured driver, appears on L-2.

The most riveting story is the sentencing of a troubled 22-year-old Cliffside Park man in the brutal rape of two sisters, 9 and 11 years old, in 2012 (L-1).

Don't miss this line from Staff Writer Kibret Markos, who I would guess is exaggerating:

"Even in a courtroom accustomed to stunning accounts of human depravity, this one left many in the audience with gaping mouths" (L-1).

Markos then proceeds to describe the rapes in detail on L-6 -- detail that likely wouldn't have been allowed by the editors even a decade ago.

Readers might be asking themselves why they haven't previously seen "stunning accounts of human depravity" in Markos' coverage of the busy Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.

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