To the Editor:
As readers now know, New Jersey’s appellate court has upheld the legality of NJ Transit’s relocation of the Dinky terminus to accommodate the University’s development goals. We respect the legal process, but we are disappointed that these rulings have shown so little sensitivity to the public interests involved. We fought this battle to give voice to the interests of public transportation users, and we are grateful to the regional, town, alumni, and University supporters and our many other backers who have recognized that this was a battle worth fighting, win or lose.
We brought our court cases because we believed, and still do, that the relocation of the Dinky terminus and destruction of our historic and charming station was a terrible idea. Princeton has lost an in-town station with easy pedestrian access that provided a mass transit link to Northeast Corridor. Princeton has also lost an iconic train station with irreplaceable literacy, cultural, and political associations. The park-and-ride facility we have in its place has all the charm of an industrial site and is inconvenient. It is no surprise that Dinky ridership has declined significantly.
When Borough elected officials debated zoning approvals for an Arts complex that involved relocating the Dinky, they were told by NJ Transit that a 1984 contract gave the University the absolute right to relocate the terminus. Our cases established that this was not true: the judges said that NJ Transit retained the full authority to approve or disapprove the move.
We also argued that before giving any approval NJ Transit was required to hold a meaningful public hearing to show the move was in the best interests of NJ Transit riders. Instead, with the backing of our Governor, who controls NJ Transit and also is an ex-officio University Trustee, NJ Transit assented to the move behind closed doors and presented the plan to the public as a fait accompli. The Court has said the law permits this. However, if this is the law, the law should be changed. NJ Transit should not be permitted to make backroom deals to turn over precious public transportation assets to a private entity without any public hearing or accountability.
We encourage Princetonians who rely on the Dinky to join us in pressing for enforcement of the promises made by Princeton University in a memorandum of understanding about the Dinky and public transit, and to identify steps than can and should be taken to improve service and ridership on the Dinky. We also urge our elected officials to press NJ Transit to move quickly to honor its obligation to promote public awareness of the history of the Princeton Branch through the installation and permanent maintenance of interpretative displays at the new station.