The delayed days of summer: how east coast commuters get to work on time

The delayed days of summer: how east coast commuters get to work on time
Aug 30, 2017
For New York commuters, rideshare programs offer a promising alternative to congested roads and public transportation delays.

Deplorable. Unavoidable. Foreseeable.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo used these words to describe Penn Station’s latest surge of Amtrak breakdowns. In March, a train leaving Penn Station collided with a NJ Transit train, causing minor injuries and major headaches. Less than two weeks earlier, two other trains derailed just a few feet to the left.

At the center of the damage lies ‘A Interlocking’, the most complex convergence point of the Jersey-facing North River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard. Tracks and switches wind around over top one another like snakes in a concrete ditch.

Riders can’t see the underground operations, but they feel the pain.

train commuters

The incidents have become so frequent that repairs from one crash have simply blended into delays caused by the next. The main city hub serves 600,000 daily commuters spanning the Northeastern corridor —many of whom have had to adjust their schedules in response to this summer’s delays.

Amtrak’s long-term Gateway Program proposal, which has yet to see its required $12 billion in federal funding, includes adding a second tunnel from New Jersey to New York. As for immediate emergency repairs, Governor Cuomo’s letter to President Donald Trump included a plea to prioritize the busiest rail hub on the continent.

Though the summer repairs are projected to conclude on schedule next week, they've caused an estimated 25 percent decrease in rail service, impacting alternative routes and, ultimately, workers’ livelihoods. As commuters and travelers responded to what the Governor originally forecasted to be a “summer of hell”, they've leaned on what attracts them to the city in the first place: a tireless sense of urgency, unteachable grit, and a history of community.

Finding Community in the Commute

In addition to the 9-to-5 rush hour bees who must adjust their schedules (and possibly their transportation mode), there are those who earn NYC’s sleepless reputation. The construction workers, nurses, and grad students; the working families and the double-shift diner servers. Many New Yorkers, for better or worse, are tied to their jobs pending any drastic life changes or company restructuring.

Peaches, a Logistics and Supply manager for hearing aid manufacturer Widex, has battled the impending traffic in her own way. She’s taken over the radio and the steering wheel of the seven-passenger Dodge Grand Caravan this morning.

She left her home in Woodhaven, Queens at 7 AM to pick up her coworkers, Rina (from Brooklyn) and Ron (from Brooklyn Heights). Though they work at the same place, they all met in this vanpool.

“I like to save the wear and tear on my car,” Peaches said. “Plus, we get to use this HOV lane.”

days spent commuting

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Widex has relocated to Hauppauge, Long Island, making the commute increasingly expensive and laborious for many of its uniquely skilled workers from Long Island City, Queens, and Western Nassau County. To make the move logistically possible for folks like Peaches, Rina, and Ron, Widex sought alternative ways to make the commute affordable and bearable — perhaps even enjoyable.

That’s when the company found 511NY Rideshare.

In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission assigned 511 as a nationwide telephone number for traveler information. The greater New York’s 511 service includes a web/phone-based initiative that works with the state and employers to provide ride matching, commuter and traveler services. 511NY, USDOT, and ICF focused on carpooling to reduce carbon emissions and improve the air quality — including ways to reduce the number of New York’s single-driver cars on the road. 511NY’s services are free, offering a sense of personal accountability that every individual practice of sustainability helps.

With Trump’s recent departure from the Paris Climate Agreement, people around the world wonder what the alternative is to international guidance regarding greenhouse gases. In the U.S., companies like Widex have taken the initiative in racing to the top of energy efficient operations. 

Since Widex began supporting ride share arrangements like car and vanpooling in February 2013, around 156 employees were using 18 vans to move from west to eastern Long Island. They’ve now taken about 10 million miles off accumulated road travel, which equals 400 trips around the earth.

More than 70,000 people have signed up for the service so far; but if groups of friends enrolled and encouraged their companies to invest more into carpooling and vanpooling vehicles, that’s more vehicles off the road (meaning less congestion). With the delays at Penn Station, the amount of commuters switching to driving could have a significant impact on traffic times.

rideshare time savings

Creating a Carpooling Culture

400 earth-revolutions’ worth of travel on the HOV lane means employees have gotten to know each other outside the water cooler context. After reading how Phileas Fogg and Passepartout circumnavigated the globe in Jules Vernes' Around the World in 80 Days, one might enjoy some collective grumbling about traffic, sports, or, heaven forbid…the weather. Rideshare programs and similar means of commuting aren't just sensible; they ask participants to acknowledge fellow commuters’ existence — a decision to not ignore your fellow riders and to be mindful of our carbon impact. Philosophically and practically, it works. 

The collective understanding is that ridesharing can be simply a faster, cheaper, and environmentally sound alternative to driving alone. The trick to implementing a community rideshare and mobility program, however, is to increase the overall amount of members/participants per area. And ultimately, reducing the amount of single-driver vehicles on the road by pairing more drivers going to a relatively mutual location can reduce carbon emissions while decreasing road congestion.

Widex has shown the impact one company can have in creating alternative transportation opportunities for its employees. For Peaches, her plight is one most workers face this season, whether they carpool or face train delays:

“Vacation for the driver,” she says, tilting her head back in laughter. She turns up the radio just loud enough to lighten the mood as they exit the highway.

Want to learn more? If you plan to travel by way of Penn Station in the near future, check out this portal for the latest updates on new schedules and travel alternatives.

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