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The New Jersey Commuter in New York Subway (1921)

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Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 58, No. 27 · December 31, 1921 · pp. 1151-1152.

The New Jersey Commuter in New York Subway. By Daniel L. Turner, Consulting Engineer to the Transit Commission of New York City.

The Commuter Traffic to New York Amounts to 359,000,000 Passengers Annually and Is Growing Rapidly Steps to Develop a Rapid Transit Plan Are Recommended. Abstract of paper read at the Bi-State Rapid Transit Conference under the auspices of the City Plan Commission, held at City Hall. Paterson, N. J., Dec. 15, 1921.

On every working day during the year 1920, from north, east, south and west, from as far away as 20 miles or more, and in the morning hours, nearly one and one-quarter million people were delivered into lower Manhattan by all of the rapid transit lines in New York and by all methods of commuter travel leading to the city. More than 200,000 of this traveling multitude were New Jersey commuters. This number is 17 per cent of all the travelers.

Although it is true that Manhattan is an island, the waters surrounding it have already been passed under by thirty single-track passenger tunnels and eighteen of these have been constructed by New York City. Therefore, physical barriers are no longer an obstacle to the realization of your aspirations for a more convenient transportation service between your homes and your work places in Manhattan. The difficulties are entirely political.

In order properly to emphasize the importance of dealing with our local transportation problem as a metropolitan rather than as a city problem, some figures will be given with respect to city transit and then with respect to commuter traffic.


In the past the traffic on the street railway lines, subway, elevated and surface, in New York City, has nearly doubled every fifteen years. The average daily traffic on all lines is now more than 6,500,000 passengers.

The total traffic carried during the year of 1920 on all lines was approximately 2,365,000,000 passengers approximately double the number of passengers carried on all of the steam railroads in the country. This was an increase over 1919 of nearly 285,000,000 passengers. Reduced to months, this means that during the average month in 1920, 23,000,000 more passengers were carried than during the average month of 1919; or reduced to days, it means that during the average day in 1920, 763,000 more passengers were carried than during an average day in 1919. Expressed in another manner, this means that on every day during 1920 nearly 4,200 more passengers were carried than on the preceding day or it means that the equivalent of nearly four additional ten-car express trains must be added to the service every day to carry the increase in traffic each day.

In 1913, the year the dual contracts were signed, the rapid transit lines alone in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn subway and elevated lines together carried 810,000,000 passengers. In 1920 these same rapid transit lines, together with the new lines which had been placed in operation, carried about 1,332,000,000 passengers during the year. This means an increase of 64 per cent in seven years. It would have been utterly impossible to accommodate this enormous increase in traffic had it not been for the large additions to the transportation facilities which were opened for operation during the last two or three years. To keep pace with this enormous traffic increase, New York City must build more subways at once, and must formulate a plan for continuous construction.


The steam railroad commuters are assumed to include regular commuters, trip-ticket passengers and other short distance or suburban riders. In 1920, the total commuter traffic in and out of New York City was about 73 per cent of the total passenger travel on all steam railroads entering the city. It amounted approximately to 153,000,000 passengers. This number included passengers using the Grand Central terminal, the Long Island terminals and all traffic via the New Jersey roads. The total traffic or the commuter traffic and regular through railroad traffic together was about 210,000,000 passengers for the year. About 56 per cent of the total steam railroad commuter traffic, or about 87,000,000 in and out, used the New Jersey roads.

Neither the rapid transit traffic nor the commuter traffic is distributed evenly throughput the day. On the rapid transit lines, approximately 21 per cent of the total twenty-four-hour traffic in both directions is carried in three hours in one direction past the maximum load point. On the commuter lines, about 30 per cent represents the corresponding concentrated travel. The three heaviest traffic hours are either from 7 to 10 a.m. workward, or from 4 to 7 p.m. homeward. The real traffic problem is to take care of the traffic during these three hours morning and night. The daily steam railroad commuter traffic from New Jersey is approximately 272,000 and the daily rapid transit traffic approximately 4,162,000 passengers. Applying the preceding percentages to the daily traffic figures we find that the maximum daily traffic, one way, during three hours, from 7 to 10 a.m. or from 4 to 7 p.m., on all of the commuter lines together, amounts to about 82,000 passengers; on the rapid transit lines during the same three hours, the traffic is about 874,000 passengers. The ratio between these two figures is 1 to 10.7. In other words, during the one-way three-hour periods of greatest congestion, there is one steam railroad commuter from New Jersey for nearly every ten rapid transit passengers carried on the rapid transit lines.


The total commuter travel, including (1) steam railroad, (2) tunnel and (3) ferry commuters, aggregated approximately: Passengers, for the year 1920: 359,000,000; Passengers, for the day, both ways: (478,000+115,000+528.000)= 1,121,000; For the maximum three hours in one direction: (143,000+35,000+158,000)= 336,000.

Comparing this last figure with the 874,000 three-hour, one-direction, rapid-transit traffic, we have the ratio of 1 to 2.6. This ratio means that during the most congested three hours one way, the rapid transit travel is only a little more than two and one-half times the total number of commuters of all kinds coming into or going out of New York City.

In the case of New Jersey separately, there were 203,000 commuters during the maximum three hours in one direction. This gives the ratio of 1 to 4.3, as compared with the corresponding rapid transit traffic, or expressed in another way, during the maximum three hours in one direction there are nearly one-quarter times as many New Jersey commuters as there are rapid transit riders.

All of the foregoing figures are approximate, but they are sufficiently accurate to present the picture I have been endeavoring to portray, which is: That the importance of the commuter traffic with respect to the New York City transit problem cannot be overestimated.


Of all the commuters, 336,000 in the maximum three hours in one direction, 10 per cent originate via the Hudson tunnels, 47 per cent via the ferries and 43 per cent over the steam railroads. Nearly one-half, or 46 per cent, of the steam railroad business passes into or out of the city through the Grand Central and Pennsylvania terminals in Manhattan and the Flatbush terminal in Brooklyn. This business amounts to approximately 66,000 passengers in three hours in one direction. These terminals also accommodate 120,000 through passengers in both directions daily. However, the through passengers are distributed throughout the day and therefore do not impose a heavy burden on the terminals. But from the preceding figures it appears that there must be taken care of through the three terminals in three hours in one direction more than one-half as many commuters as there are through passengers traveling in twenty-four hours in both directions. The concentration of commuter traffic at the Grand Central, Pennsylvania and Flatbush terminals, therefore, is the real passenger problem which the railroads have to contend with. This concentration of travel amounted to 21,000 passengers at the Grand Central Terminal, 22,000 at the Pennsylvania, 23,000 at Flatbush and 35,000 at the Hudson & Manhattan terminals.

Many of these people walked to and from the terminals but a large proportion of them used the subways. In the morning the subway trains coming workward are carrying their maximum loads when they reach the terminals, so that passengers have to struggle to get aboard. This delays the trains and reduces the capacity of the subways. At night, returning passengers almost have to fight their way out of the trains. The introduction into the subway of such a large volume of traffic at already congested stations is disastrous to service. It is most important to eliminate such conditions wherever possible.

But this is not the worst of the situation. The commuter traffic at the terminals is growing at a terrific rate. During the last ten years it has increased about 117 per cent at the Grand Central. During nine years the Long Island commuter traffic has increased 141 per cent at Flatbush and 275 ner cent at the Pennsylvania Station. The capacity of the Flatbush terminal has practically been reached.

The Pennsylvania Station has really become a Long Island terminal, since two-thirds of the business through it is Long Island business, and also since the Long Island Railroad used it for 40 per cent of its own business coming into the city. The Long Island Railroad is operating from the terminal under a two-minute interval service during the rush hours. At this time the terminal has nearly reached its capacity to Long Island. It is all due to commuter traffic. Here we have a terminal only eleven years old, and it has become so seriously congested that steps are being taken to determine what can be done to relieve the situation.

The New Jersey commuter traffic has increased also but not as rapidly as the Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut traffic. The commuters on the New Jersey Central, Lackawanna and Erie increased approximately 40 per cent during the last ten years.


The foregoing figures are important in that they all point in one direction. They emphasize the fact that the commuter traffic has really become a very great factor in our urban transit problem. They also emphasize the fact that the commuter traffic is increasing at a terrific rate. The growth of the traffic is so stupendous that the consequences will be very serious if immediate steps are not taken to deal adequately with the problem. The commuter service must be transformed into a metropolitan rapid transit service. The only difference now between our city rapid transit and this metropolitan rapid transit is that the latter requires a longer haul and operates both inside and outside of the city limits. The metropolitan service is even now operated on an interval basis, as instanced in the case of the Long Island Railroad. All of which means that a Metropolitan transit plan must be developed.

Commuters, under the proposed new order of things, should be brought into and distributed through the business center of the city as far as it is practicable to do so. At least they should be brought to points where by easy transfer from one line to another they may reach almost any objective point within the city. Commuters should not be delivered to terminals. The commuter does not need a terminal any more than a city rapid transit rider does. He only buys a ticket once or twice a month, he has no baggage to check. He does not desire to wait for trains. He expects frequent service amounting almost to interval service and times his movements so as to make quick connections. So what the commuter requires is a frequent, quick, regular and through service from his home to his work and back again with the minimum amount of transferring in transit.

The underlying principles of a suitable plan to accomplish this are briefly: there must be a pooling of railroad interests, an extension of electrification, additional tubes must be constructed under the Hudson and East Rivers, the commuter lines themselves must be articulated together so that a more convenient interchange of traffic between them can be effected and the commuter traffic must be carried into and distributed through the business center.

It has been suggested that the Port Authority might be utilized as the agency to develop such a plan, but I do not believe the law is broad enough to permit this. The functions of the Port Authority are restricted to a freight project. Similarly, the Transit Commission in New York is without power to deal with the question. Its activities, by reason uf the political division of the Metropolitan area already alluded to, are restricted to the territory east of the Hudson. Consequently all of its efforts have been directed toward developing rapid transit facilities for New York City exclusively.

A new agency must be created, but it is believed that another interstate authority would be a mistake at this time. It is suggested that the best and quickest way of dealing with the situation is to create a New Jersey Transit Commission with all the necessary authority to study the question of interstate transportation of passengers and to develop the necessary plans to effectuate such a project. Such a New Jersey commission would undoubtedly receive the hearty co-operation of the Transit Commission of New York to the end that its plans might properly conform to the city's new transit plan.

In any Metropolitan transportation project, either for freight or for passengers, in the interests of economy the existing New Jersey and New York railroad facilities must be utilized to the greatest extent possible consistent with the best development of a plan. The same railroads are involved in either case. Therefore the freight plans and the passenger plans must both fit in with the existing railroad conditions, and also must fit in with each other. Consequently, when the construction of the project is to be begun, it will be a great advantage to carry out the work under the same authority. Under such circumstances, since it is already vested with power to carry forward its freight project, the Port Authority would seem to be the natural agency to undertake the combined project.

In the interim, while the New Jersey Transit Commission is developing the plans, the feasibility of the suggested method of procedure can be resolved.


Electric Railway Journal, McGraw Hill Company, Digitized by Microsoft, Americana Collection, archive.org.

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