PRINCETON: Loose Ends: All aboard to nowhere …

By Pam Hersh Special Writer
    I like green. I look good in green — as good as anyone my age can look without looking moldy. I like being green, as in the annoyingly trendy reference to environmental sustainability. And I enjoy having enough green for feeding my extravagant habit of consuming my daily dose of coffee (in my sustainable thermos) within the socially pleasing environment of a Princeton coffeehouse.
    This past Saturday morning, however, my attempts to be green ended up making me red with fury. My daughter asked me to baby-sit for a couple of hours in New Brunswick. Consistent with our family’s commitment to reducing carbon footprints, I decided to walk to the train station, take the Dinky to the Junction, take the train to New Brunswick and walk to my daughter’s house.
    Even with a sprained foot that makes walking uncomfortable, my love of being outside and desire to stay out of a single-occupied vehicle propelled me forward.
    When I got to the Dinky station for the 8:01 a.m. train, I saw three forlorn backpack-wearing teens wandering away from the station. One said to me that neither the Dinky nor the substitute NJ Transit bus was operating to the Junction. The backpack youngsters walked away before I could suggest that we all share a cab.
    I got into the cab myself mumbling how I should have walked home and gotten my car, but my injured foot was not going to allow me to walk another step. The cab ride cost $14 for a five minute (actually four minutes — there was no traffic whatsoever). This cost was about three times the cost of my “senior” ticket to New Brunswick.
    Apparently, to save some green, NJ Transit on July 12, with no fanfare, cut all the Saturday and Sunday morning Dinky trips between Princeton to the Junction before 9:27 a.m.. This included the “red-eye” Dinky, very early in the morning from the Junction to Princeton. Thus, the axed Dinkys were: the 6:01 a.m., 7:01 a.m., 7:27 a.m., 8:01 a.m., 8:27 a.m., 9:01 a.m. and the 1:13 a.m.
    That “red-eye” Dinky will be missed not only by Princeton University students who frequent the 11:56 p.m. train out of New York, but even by the occasional senior citizen, such as myself, who still enjoy the carbon- footprint-free night out in NYC.
    My attachment to the Dinky has zero to do with it being a cute, Thomas-the- Tank-Engine train. I could care less about what type of vehicle transports me to the train station in the Junction. I just want to get there in the most efficient and reliable way possible.
    For the past 20 years, I have been advocating for a regularly running (no schedule) train or bus between Princeton and the Junction. Right now, the schedule favors New York City trains, meaning that Philadelphia, Trenton, and Washington, D.C., commuters who use the Dinky often have to wait 20 to 30 minutes on each end of their commute to make the connection.
    This past Wednesday evening was the first time in my train-taking life that a Dinky conductor actually waited for me as I raced (limped) off of the Amtrak from Washington, D.C., to the Dinky as it was about to pull away.
    The Princeton community has been so focused on the issue of moving the train station a few hundred feet to accommodate Princeton University’s redevelopment plans that it may have lost sight of far more ominous changes coming down the track — this curtailment of service.
    I know it is expensive to run the train for the sake of a handful of commuters, particularly when NJ Transit is trying to compensate for a $62 million cut in its budget. Transit is being forced to make lots of little service cuts in areas that have the least impact on the transit- taking public. But when I am among those inconvenienced by these changes and when such a move is counter to the rhetoric coming out of Washington and Trenton, I lose my cool green.
    Since the middle of May, I have been heaping praise on NJ Transit for its plans to move forward with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). It has completed its “Near Term Concept Plan” for a workable, sustainable BRT system in the region and announced its intention to move forward.
    Jack Kanarack, a NJ Transit employee since Transit’s birth in 1980, has been a leader in the state transportation planning efforts to move the BRT concept from concept to reality, beginning with encouraging the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, on whose board he sits, to invest in the region’s first study about the feasibility of BRT. He just retried from NJ Transit, and I hope that his departure in no way signals NJ Transit’s backing away from a fully fueled BRT system.
    The problem is that BRT never will be funded unless mass transit becomes more desirable and sexier, and the public becomes more vocal in demanding this service. If the current bleak fiscal situation causes cutbacks rather than enhancements to mass transit, people will become more dependent upon cars and less demanding of the shrinking-carbon-footprint mode of transportation.
    While trying to figure out how to bring some sex appeal to BRT, I came across the following Reuters dispatch that talked about bicycles, public transit and parking congestion relief — and a Green Light District.
    “The women who work at the Maison D’Envie brothel in Berlin apparently have a thing for guys with small carbon footprints. The brothel now offers discounts to customers who arrive at the brothel by bicycle or public transit.”
    Britain’s Guardian newspaper translated the brothel’s Web site: “The Maison d’Envie offers one major advantage over other establishments: it is perfectly accessible by public transport … And because we want to reward your green commitment, we have — and it’s unique in Berlin — an environmental discount.’ It’s not a huge discount ($7 off the normal $100 fee for a 45-minute visit), but in these difficult economic times, no one seems to be complaining. Brothel owner Thomas Goetz says the promotion is attracting three-to-five new customers daily. It has also relieved parking congestion in the neighborhood.” (Sources: Reuters, Guardian).
    Certainly, this land use that would add a new dimension to the meaning of a Transit Village!
A longtime resident of Princeton, Pam Hersh is vice president for government and community affairs with Princeton HealthCare System.