SOMERVILLE, NJ - Mayor Ellen Brain has joined with mayors of towns along the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line to petition Gov. Phil Murphy and members of the Senate and Assembly to address deteriorating service and specifically, the lack of peak hour one-seat rides for RVL customers.

In a letter to the elected officials, DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and NJ Transit Director Kevin Corbett, the RVL Mayors Coalition noted that ridership levels on RVL are comparable and, in some cases, exceed other lines that have multiple direct trains.

In addition, the letter points out that RVL riders must switch trains and change platforms in Newark, adding at least 35 minutes to their commute and too often missing the connecting train.

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“Somerville Borough is in the process of supporting the State’s Transit initiative of encouraging use of mass transportation into New York City by expanding the housing footprint in the areas near the train station to support residents whose livelihood depends on using the Raritan Valley Line to access New York City," Brain said.

"To fully support both these new apartment dwellers and those thousands already committed to using the train from Somerville’s station, we fully support the one-ride fairness initiative and are working to create this single vision with the other mayors who also feel that equity in the one seat ride is an imperative and would provide a much needed change to be able to get into New York City without having the need to change trains in Newark,” she added.

Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Coalition co-chair, said the mayors understand the many serious issues facing NJT but expressed concern that better service for RVL will be overlooked.

“As mayors, we represent more than 23,000 residents who use the train daily and we owe it to them to push for better service. In addition, towns on the RVL will be at a disadvantage to compete in the residential and commercial markets,” she added.

Last week, Mayor Shelley Brindle of Westfield accompanied Martin Robins, Director Emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Center, who testified during the hearings on NJ Transit.

Brindle explained the recent letter is part of an overall strategy planned by the Mayors Coalition to leverage the collective voices of the 23 mayors across the Raritan Valley Line municipalities to advocate for change.

“We are building a comprehensive legislative strategy that will entail a number of meetings with local and state-level lawmakers in September and we are steadfast in our commitment not only to improving the commuting experience but, by extension, maximizing the economic opportunities that equitable one-seat rides would provide for the Raritan Valley Line municipalities,” she said.

The following is a copy of the letter circulated by the coalition that was sent to Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-16th and other state senators whose districts include those towns served by the RVL:

"As mayors representing 23 communities and nearly 300,000 NJ residents on the Raritan Valley Line, we are writing to express our profound dissatisfaction with the current state of NJ Transit and its ongoing deterioration.

The 23,000 daily commuters in our municipalities have been given a set of sub-standard choices for their daily transit needs in and out of Manhattan, and while we recognize this problem has been a long time in the making, we have assembled our collective efforts to do our part in moving toward a solution-oriented environment that effects change.

Of special concern is the recent announcement to temporarily suspend one-seat rides on the Raritan Valley Line while concurrently facing reduced availability due to lane closure on Route 495 in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel. While service issues are indeed a significant problem across NJ Transit, this new set of changes makes neither the train nor the bus decent options for commuters on the Raritan Valley Line as its riders continue to absorb more than their fair share of disruptions.

It is our understanding that the one-seat rides will resume in early 2019, following the Positive Train Control project. We firmly believe this presents an ideal opportunity for NJ Transit to newly assess and re-allocate the dual locomotives to enable a peak one-seat ride more equitably – one that is based on ridership and appropriately incorporates the Raritan Valley Line commuters who have been underserved by the current off-peak allocation.

Peak one-seat rides would allow Raritan Valley Line towns to compete equally for residential and commercial investment, enhance current economic redevelopment efforts in progress along the entire corridor, enable employers to compete for younger, skilled talent from Manhattan, and ultimately increase property values in all Raritan Valley Line municipalities.

The time for progress on this front is long overdue, and further setbacks stemming from additional service disruptions are simply unacceptable for the following reasons:

- RVL ridership continues to increase and now has more than 23,000 daily commuters -- comparable to or even exceeding other NJ Transit (NJT) lines serviced by multiple direct trains into NY Penn Station;

- RVL riders must transfer platforms in Newark, adding an additional 35 minutes on average to their commute and often missing a connecting train;

- The NJT 2017 Quarterly Report states that 10 of RVL’s 18 stations rank in the top half of all NJT stations in terms of average weekday passenger boarding;

- The majority of RVL towns have embraced the State’s Smart Growth and Transit Oriented Initiatives resulting in more than 8,000 new units with more in the planning. These investments in our towns and in NJ are significant and add additional commuters.

Despite these factors, the Raritan Valley Line has received no peak hour direct train service after 20 years of working and negotiating to provide RVL riders equitable service.

Unless the commuter experience improves for RVL, our communities may see a decline in economic revitalization in both the residential and commercial sectors. The RVL ridership and our towns cannot wait for 2030 and the Gateway Project. We need action and a commitment from NJ Legislators now to improve transportation for more than 23,000 commuters and to better serve the nearly 300,000 NJ residents who live in towns on the Raritan Valley Line.

In the interim, we advocate for other options to be further assessed and communicated to the public:

- The progress of construction on the Hunter Flyover, which would carry the Raritan Valley Line over the Northeast Corridor tracks, eliminating the need for these trains to wait for Amtrak and other commuter traffic to clear. The completion of this critical project that would cut the time for Raritan Valley trains to reach Newark and New York is vitally important to its riders;

- The improvements being made to system-wide communications, so that commuters are not faced with chronic delays and cancelations with little to no notice. The current approach leaves commuters with few options to adjust their schedules and find alternative means of timely transportation;

- The viability of extending the Raritan Valley Line to Hoboken for ferry connectivity at West 39th Street, which would provide commuters a much-needed alternative as they face both short and long-term maintenance and service changes.

Our coalition agrees that there is no quick and easy solution to the current issues faced by NJ Transit, and we recognize that changes on this scale take time. That said, we remain steadfast in our commitment to improving the commuting experience for residents, employees and visitors to our communities and business districts. This effort is critical to the economic health, investment and vitality of our towns, and of course, New Jersey."