10.06.16

SCHUMER DEMANDS NEW JERSEY TRANSIT IMPROVE COMMUNICATION WITH RIDERS DURING & AFTER EMERGENCIES; ORANGE COUNTY & ROCKLAND COUNTY COMMUTERS WERE LEFT STRANDED WITHOUT CLEAR DIRECTION ON HOW TO GET IN AND OUT OF NYC AFTER LAST WEEK’S TRAIN ACCIDENT

Schumer Pushes NJT & Metro-North To Make Commitment To Ensure Stations Are Adequately Staffed With Clearly Identified Employees to Provide Directions During Emergencies; Improve Alert & Public Address Systems; And Expand Use of New Technologies Including Mass Text Alerts and Social Media ‎via Facebook, Instagram and More

Schumer Says Riders Were Only Given Limited Information About What to Do and How to Get In & Out of NYC During Service Outage

Schumer: NJT Communication Breakdowns Could Make Bad Situations Worse For Orange and Rockland County Commuters  

During a visit to the Tuxedo New Jersey Transit Train Station, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded New Jersey Transit (NJT) and Metro-North immediately make every effort to improve communication with Orange and Rockland County commuters during emergencies and service outages. Schumer said NJT’s effort to communicate with riders during the emergency was inadequate, unavailable or confusing. Schumer said this was unacceptable, and NJT should make a public commitment to dramatically improve communication with travelers during emergencies. Schumer also said the major service delays reaffirms the desperate need to complete the long-sought one-seat ride to Penn Station for long-suffering Orange and Rockland train commuters.

“New Jersey Transit and Metro North emergency communication systems were not up to snuff during last week’s emergency. With nary an orange jacket to be found at smaller stations in Orange and Rockland Counties, a sluggish website that made it hard to access information, and alternate travel information that was not posted until hours after the accident – commuters were stranded and they deserve better. ‎Far too many commuters were frustrated and flummoxed by poor communication and left no guidance on alternate routes – or even worse, no way to get to work or get home later that day. That is why I’m strongly urging NJT and Metro-North step up to the plate so it is better prepared during future emergences, so these gaps can be identified and improved so we can better ensure passenger safety, efficient travel and peace of mind going forward,” said Senator Schumer. “The bottom line is that, following disasters and emergencies, NJT – and other transportation agencies – must do a better job at both old school boots on the ground communication and new ‎high-tech electronic communication to smart phones and more.”

Schumer said that, while both railroads are making long-term plans to improve safety on the rails, there are short-term communications issues that can and must be dealt with on the heels of the NJT train crash in Hoboken just last week, which injured more than 100 and killed one person. Following the horrific crash, commuters across Orange and Rockland Counties that rely on NJT to bring them to transfer points in Secaucus Junction and Hoboken in New Jersey, and then into New York City, were left stranded without clear direction on how to get into the city or home later that day following the accident.

Schumer said riders throughout the Hudson Valley were left without adequate information about the nature of the accident, the duration of the expected service outages, and the potential alternative travel options. Schumer highlighted three specific instances of communications breakdowns on NJT’s part that negatively impacted Orange and Rockland commuters. First, Schumer said updated information on alternate routes and travel delays was not posted to NJT's Facebook page until after 5:00 pm, despite the accident occurring during the early morning commute. Second, given the high traffic volume, NJT's website was running slower than usual, which could have made it more difficult for travelers to access the information they needed in their time of desperation. Lastly, a number of commuters raised concerns about the lack of available staff members at stations, including those in the Hudson Valley.

Schumer said this is not the first time commuters traveling via train were left in the dark following an accident or outage of some kind. For example, earlier this year in May, a fire that occurred under Metro-North tracks in East Harlem left commuters confused, frustrated and, more importantly, stranded for hours on end with no way to get home. Riders reported that Metro-North did not have an adequate number of clearly identified staff members available in Grand Central Station providing clear instructions on alternative travel options. On top of this, several travelers reported that it was also difficult to clearly identify Metro-North staff in Grand Central during the chaos to ask for additional information, and public address system announcements were difficult to hear and understand.

Schumer argued that it is incumbent on both NJT and Metro-North to improve communication with riders following accidents and outages like this. As a result of these situations where poor communication impacted commuters, Schumer called on these two agencies to take immediate steps to begin addressing this issue. Schumer said there are many ways NJT and Metro-North can work to improve communication, including the following:

-          First, Schumer said these agencies should expand efforts to sign-up commuters for e-mail and text message alert systems. Schumer said these text alerts should be sent to smartphones, with multi-media and hyperlinks included, so riders can quickly access information when time is of the essence.

-          Second, Schumer said these two entities must get serious about expanding the use of social media tools, so they can improve real time communication with riders during emergencies. Schumer said social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and more should be used as a tool during emergencies to keep the commuting public informed.

-          Third, Schumer said these two agencies should work to better ensure that Public Address systems and loud speakers at stations are audible and working properly. Schumer said many riders report garbled announcements during emergencies can leave riders further confused and frustrated.

-          Finally, Schumer urged the two agencies to expand the immediate presence of well-informed staff to provide real-time information to customers at platforms, including smaller stations like those in Orange and Rockland Counties. Schumer said that NJT and Metro-North should work together to better prepare and plan for these situations so that commuters aren’t left uninformed, confused or stranded.

Separately, Schumer said these major service delays reaffirm the desperate need to complete the long-sought one-seat ride to Penn Station for long-suffering Orange and Rockland train commuters. Schumer said these commuters would not have been so drastically and negatively impacted by service delays and outages if they had a way to travel directly into New York City’s Penn Station, without having to stop and transfer in New Jersey. Schumer said this long-sought-after project would go a long way for increasing convenience and decreasing travel time for West-of-the-Hudson commuters in Orange and Rockland Counties.

Schumer was joined Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Tuxedo Supervisor Michael Rost, and Tuxedo Mayor Mary Jo Guinchard.

“Thousands of hard-working Orange County residents rely on New Jersey Transit to get to work and back home to their families every day. Any time there are delays or emergencies, commuters should be provided with timely information. I hope that full services are restored by New Jersey Transit as soon as possible because Orange County residents are dependent on this transportation to get to work,” said Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus.

“Based upon my background in law enforcement, I’m keenly aware that the lack of communication makes crashes worse and in this case New Jersey Transit has to learn from this experience and improve in any and all ways it possibly can. I would like to thank Senator Schumer for standing with all commuters and especially Rockland County residents to address this essential issue,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day.

“Many residents in the Town of Tuxedo and across our area travel into the city and New Jersey each day,” said Michael Rost, Town of Tuxedo Supervisor. “Improved communication from transit officials during and after an emergency is vitally important to the meeting the safety and needs of travelers. I thank Senator Schumer for bringing attention to this critical issue.”

“We deeply appreciate Senator Schumer coming to Tuxedo to talk about this incredibly important issue that impacts many residents daily, my family included. On that tragic day last week, my husband and two daughters were using NJT as they always do. However, as chaos was ensuing around them, I was the one to let them know what was happening from the news. Next, the nightmare continued as they each tried to come home. My husband's commute home was long and difficult, as well as my daughters. The next day the commute wasn't any better, consisting of waits, crowds, and needed communication. One of my daughters waited for a bus for almost two hours before even starting her difficult ride home. New Jersey Transit improving communication with their riders is nothing less than absolutely necessary and I am immensely grateful to Senator Schumer for standing with all commuters in demanding it,” said Mary Jo Guinchard, Village of Tuxedo Park Mayor.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to New Jersey Transit and Metro-North appears below:

Dear Mr. Dennis Martin and Mr. Joe Giulietti -

I write concerning a number of recent incidents involving communication with Hudson Valley riders following service disruptions and accidents, like the one that occurred in Hoboken at the end of last week. I am aware of both of your railroads efforts to improve safety, and appreciate steps you've taken to address a number of issues but more can and should be done. While there are a number of long-term systemic rail safety and cultural issues that ‎need to be addressed there are also short-term steps that can be taken to help improve safety and dramatically improve response time in the event of emergencies. More specifically, far too frequently we have seen lacking or poor communication with riders following accidents.

Most recently this issue manifested itself following the crash in Hoboken on September 29th. Riders throughout the Hudson Valley were left without adequate information about the nature of the accident, the duration of the expected service outages, and the potential alternative travel options. It is incumbent on both of your agencies to improve communication with riders following accidents and outages and I respectfully request your help in addressing this issue.

Communication breakdowns following accidents is not a new issue - we've seen similar problems following other accidents - like the fire that occurred under Metro-North tracks in East Harlem earlier this year. In situations like the East Harlem fire and Hoboken accident fast, accurate, and robust communication is critical to ensuring that a bad situation is not bad worse by a lack of adequate information. There are a number of ways both of your agencies can work to improve communication, including: (1) expending efforts to sign-up commuters for e-mail and text message alert systems; (2) expanding the use of social media tools to improve real time communication with riders; (3) ensuring that Public Address systems at stations are audible and working properly; (4) expanding the immediate presence of well-informed staff to provide real-time information to customers at platforms, including smaller stations like those in Orange and Rockland Counties.

While I am sure your agencies made every effort to respond to the accident as efficiently as possible, problems persisted. For example, the updated alternative travel information was not posted to NJT's Facebook page until after 5:00PM, despite the accident occurring during the early morning commute. Additionally, given the high traffic volume, NJT's website was running slower than usual which could have made it more difficult for travelers to access the information they needed. Lastly, a number of commuters raised concerns about the lack of available staff members at stations, including those in the Hudson Valley. While I understand that accidents are rare and often unpredictable – more should be done to prepare and plan for these situations so that commuters aren’t left uninformed, confused, or stranded.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this issue, should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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