I'm makin' with the words again...
My displeasure with New Jersey Transit has grown steadily since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 slammed the region and the transportation agency. I can understand being overwhelmed by a superstorm. I can't understand not learning from the experience, not communicating quickly and accurately with one's paying customers, not showing concern about regular delays of 30 minutes or more, not expressing an interest in improving.
Communities of like-minded NJT riders have sprung up on Twitter and Facebook over the past few months, and in the course of some conversations, some of the others and I have begun seriously considering organizing a one-day boycott. The idea is simple: for that one weekday, don't ride any New Jersey Transit vehicle (bus, train, or light-rail) to work or school or anyplace else. Take the day off if you can afford to, or drive if you can, or get a ride with someone else, or ride a different carrier (DeCamp, Coach USA, Amtrak, etc.). This isn't about "getting even" or taking out our frustration on the agency. As most of us are regular riders and probably have monthly or weekly passes, the financial impact to NJT would be negligible... but that's not the point. If we do this right, we can focus a lot of unwanted attention on the agency and our justified grievances with it.
Doing it right requires a few things, I think. Firstly, we'd need numbers. A dozen, a hundred, even five hundred riders skipping NJT for a day would hardly raise an eyebrow. To raise some flags, we'd need thousands of empty seats that day. We'd want the people who did ride the buses and trains and light-rails that day (not to mention the drivers and conductors) to notice and wonder, "Where is everyone?" It's been pointed out that a large group of people taking cars instead of mass transit for a day could well make regular traffic worse; I say, so what? What's one day of extra traffic delays, especially when that may generate some media attention?
Which brings me to the second point... It would be helpful to get some attention from news outlets and bloggers, before and during (and after) our boycott. New Jersey Transit has been under more of a spotlight lately than it's used to, but it's not enough yet. We need others, not just us riders, to be aware of and outraged by the things NJT can do, but isn't doing, to make the situation better.
Thirdly, we can't just show up (well, not show up, really) with pitchforks and torches and clamor that we don't like New Jersey Transit! We have to list our (realistic and reasonable) grievances so that NJT knows what we want to see fixed, and so that others see that we're not just complaining for the sake of complaining. There was apparently a "Commuter Bill of Rights" proposed at one time, that died in committee; the idea should be revisited and strongly encouraged.
There are other methods we can employ, of course. The customer surveys should be filled out, and our responses need to be brutally honest. There are open meetings we can attend. Complaint forms should be filled out, and/or calls made. Legislators need to know how important this is to us. The status updates and tweets should continue as well. I feel, however, that a large-scale collective action like a boycott will make a statement that 10,000 complaints just can't, a statement that will be noticed by more than just New Jersey Transit. And so I'm trying to instigate. ;-) If you really want to see things change, then take the initiative, and go a step or two further than just moaning about it on social media.
If you were unsatisfied with Apple's iPhone, you could switch to LG or Samsung. If you don't like Walmart's policies, you can shop at Target instead. For a large number of us New Jersey Transit riders, however, the only viable alternative to riding is driving, and it's ridiculous that we should be forced to do that simply because our transit system is subpar. Some people don't have the option of driving, some would just rather avoid the hassle. For me, it's a combination of being green (by keeping one less car off the road) and saving green (by paying less for my public transportation than I would for a car and its associated expenses).
If we can get the numbers, I want to help organize a boycott! I'm going to need your help to get those numbers, though, because we're going to need a lot of people to participate. What do you say?