While the Dinky train did lose 22% of its ridership after the relocation of the Station, 78% of its original ridership has remained and is holding strong. Before the temporary suspension to help New Jersey Transit with its federal positive train control retrofit deadline, ridership losses on the Dinky had leveled off despite the alleged allure of parking permits at Princeton Junction. Princeton is slowing initiating it’s GoPrinceton transit campaign. The Dinky is now poised for some real growth.
While there have a been a few days during the year where New Jersey Transit unforgivably has had service problems, by-and-large the Dinky has delivered passengers day-in and day-out, on-time, at the Junction with just a short passenger hop onto waiting trains. There are a lot of advantages that Dinky riders enjoy over those who use Princeton Junction parking, hiking through the parking lot in the wind, rain, and snow, day-in and day-out.
There are big problems with the substitute buses. Passengers get caught in traffic like everybody else, not to mention that big pause at the Alexander Street Bridge. Use of the substitute buses has increased commuter time and uncertainty for Dinky riders, and contributed to area congestion.
Before the train suspension, ridership was about 470,000 for 2018, according to figures from New Jersey Transit. That’s a monthly average ridership of around 40,000. That’s a lot of people in the wee hours of the morning plus the commuter rush at night. These are folks staying off area roads converging on Princeton Junction. We don’t want these riders giving up on the Dinky and joining the masses in cars and buses. With growth in Princeton University’s enrollment, Princeton’s population has taken a small jump while West Windsor, with its open space, is spurting right along, increasing congestion in the area.
There are two large multi-family projects in the works for Princeton Junction that are expected to contribute to congestion in the area of the Junction Station. The Hughes Property on Route 1 at Quakerbridge (formally the American Cyanamid Property), is slated for development, and is expected to provide housing and office/retail space for thousands. Last September, the Hughes Corporation filed a lawsuit against West Windsor Township for not moving faster on approvals for the property. Imagine the congestion that is going to be added to the Route 1 corridor. We need the Dinky.
Another interesting event is in the cards in the near future — the shutdown of Alexander Street for the replacement of three bridges in a coordinated Mercer County/New Jersey Department of Transportation project. Alexander Street will be closed for four to five months starting this fall. Taking the Dinky will provide the perfect opportunity for new riders headed to Princeton Junction to skip detour gridlock.
There is a lot of loyalty to the Dinky. Having been a commuter myself with a three hour and 20 minute commute (each way) that I endured daily for several years from Harrisburg to Center City Philadelphia, I can tell you that what a commuter seeks is consistency-and-quiet first thing in the morning (in addition to coffee). The Dinky delivers. On Princeton University’s website it says that 57% of its employees are from Mercer County. That means that 43% are from outside Mercer County, a number of employees come in to Princeton on the Dinky every weekday.
The positive train control retrofit is done. While New Jersey Transit seems to be trying to squeeze in some deferred maintenance, enough is enough. We need the Dinky to resume service now.
Ms. Cherry is a member of the citizen group Save the Dinky.