Adventures in Transit, New Jersey-Style

13 Jan

Guest blogger and GMTMA’s own Mobility Manager, Nick Cecconi, recently embarked upon a transit adventure to get from his home in the GMTMA-metro area to Newark International Airport, and he lived to tell the tale. Wondering if you should drive or take transit to the airport? Nick will tell you everything you need to know, and why transit is a great option.

*****

I recently went on a trip to Florida and faced a common dilemma among travelers: should I drive to the airport and deal with parking or figure out a different way?  The initial few times I’d flown out of Newark had proven relatively easy. Even my very first journey to EWR, the thirteenth busiest airport in the country, offered few obstacles, apart from the distance between the economy lot and the terminals (let’s just call it measurable) and my resulting assuredness that I’d missed a sign somewhere; despite a storyteller’s penchant for dramatization, I would nonetheless feel comfortable categorizing this as more of a minor inconvenience than a torment worthy of Dante’s Inferno.  All told, the time from front door to parking lot six was about 55 minutes, with another 12 minutes to get to the terminal. Reasonable.  My pre and eventual post-trip shuttles were punctual and convenient.  I only took issue with one aspect of the whole endeavor – the cost.

Mind you, when only leaving your car in the airport lot for three days, $18 a day doesn’t seem all that bad, but on my most recent trip I was to be gone for ten days.  I don’t have $180 lying around for parking lot fees.  A quick scan of the nearby off-airport private lots offered little consolation.  The private shuttles that run to the airport were equally disappointing, out of reach financially and posing other difficulties of their own creation (like how best to hide my car from the prying eyes of some puritanical night auditor at the South Brunswick Holiday Inn.) I was forced to get a little creative.

I ended up plotting a multi-modal transportation bonanza that would get me to the airport fairly quickly and at a fraction of the cost of the traditional drive and park method.  Although I work in transportation and support transit 100%, I have to admit to having some reservations.  What was the chance that every transfer would be on time?  What if the train was delayed and I missed my flight? What if the AirTrain machine won’t take my NJ Transit ticket and I look like a loser in front of the big kids?  The possibilities were numerous.  I would just have to take a chance and see what happened.

I work in a multi-suite one-floor office building surrounded by parking lots, in a complex of other such buildings, on a road with more of the same.  So I was at least confident that no one would bother my car when I left it there on Thursday night.  From there, I walked about a minute to the nearest bus stop, arriving at 5:35 PM for the 5:41 bus, nervous that it would be late from the rush hour traffic.  The train station was close but I had only until 6:02 to get there and I had yet to buy my ticket.  Luckily, the bus was right on time.  I boarded, remembering to produce the correct $1.50 ahead of time, thus better enabling me to throw off the stink of transit newbie.  When the bus arrived at the train station a few minutes early, I deftly disembarked at the front door with luggage in tow, while the others only followed after having been hollered at by the bus driver that the back doors didn’t work.  My cocksure strut would morph into insecure gallop only seconds later as I struggled to locate a ticketing machine.  I settled on one that, upon consideration, was almost definitely the furthest away from the platform I needed to get to.  However, I soon had a ticket and made my way to the platform at 5:56. Piece of cake.  I sat aboard the train trying to remember the order of stops, listening to Elton John, and hoping no one would sit next to me.  Even though my stop was Newark Liberty International Airport, I still had one more transfer to make.  (Also, have you listened to the lyrics of Elton John’s Burn Down the Mission?  It’s kind of crazy.)

Since 2001, EWR has featured an elevated train (AirTrain) to help ferry people about the airport’s vast expanses of parking lots, rental car lots, terminals, and miscellaneous mechanical buildings, most of which I assume were added just in case they decide to shoot a Die Hard sequel here.  To keep up with the number of passengers, a train arrives at each AirTrain stop every three minutes during peak hours, which is – basically – all day.  Upon arrival, I hustled off the train and after obtaining directions from a disinterested security officer (good luck being an extra in John McLane’s latest adventure with that attitude, pal) made my way upstairs toward the AirTrain. I approached the ticket turnstile with trepidation, rehearsing my defense for when the machine inevitably rejected the ticket, something like, “Don’t blame me, the internet said I could! It was right on Wikipedia!” So, heart in my throat, I put the ticket in.  It worked – I knew it would all along – allowing me to breeze through to the platform.  A clock counted down the time until the next train would arrive: 52 seconds.  Although the train itself is actually quite slow, I was at the terminal (luckily, mine was the second stop) in about seven minutes.  From there, it was but a quick walk down the stairs to the corridor that deposits you squarely amidst the hubbub of EWR.  I was in the security line by 7:05 PM, an hour and a half after my initial arrival at the bus stop.

What did I learn?  I saved $136 plus the cost of gas by taking transit.  So I had to make a couple transfers. So I had to leave about an hour ahead of the time I would have left had I driven, but if you don’t mind waiting in airports, which I generally don’t, that’s nothing.  I’d say that’s worth it.  Plus, I’m one trip closer to being an actual, grizzled, transit veteran.  Win-win.

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