The use of mass transit provided by the University between Princeton and Princeton Junction went up by over 15 percent in September and October compared to last year, according to data provided by University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua. However, recent New Jersey Transit data revealed that Dinky train ridership between Princeton and Princeton Junction went down by 12.3 percent, according to NJ Transit Senior Public Information Officer William Smith.
The total number of commutes now includes the 16,922 rides provided by the University’s TigerPAWW shuttle bus system, according to Mbugua. The Dinky was temporarily relocated 1,200 feet southwards of its former location last August to accommodate construction for the upcoming Arts and Transit neighborhood, prompting the University to include Princeton Junction on the TigerPAWW bus route.
The reason for this sudden influx in mass transit users is unclear but may be attributed to drivers who wish to avoid parking at Princeton Junction, according to Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget.
“In relocating the station to the temporary location, the University recognized that the location of the construction site could impact some of the people that use the Dinky on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Appelget said that the University is not concerned about the free shuttle bus cutting into NJ Transit’s revenue, which requires $2.75 for a one-way trip from adult passengers, because it acts as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, the rail line. She confirmed that the University has not made an arrangement with NJ Transit to compensate potential revenue losses from construction inconveniences or the shuttle service.
NJ Transit Senior Public Information Officer William Smith declined to be interviewed on the recent figures. In a written statement, Smith said the shuttle service was a highly successful option and discouraged commuters from making conclusions based on two months of data. He added that the organization is confident that Dinky ridership will stabilize and increase once passengers are more familiar with the new station.
Some community members criticized the changes for inconveniencing commuters who drive to the Dinky station. The commute was made “just a little more challenging,” according to Princeton Councilwoman Jo Butler, because of the construction that affects traffic flow and the fact that the payable parking spaces near McCarter Theater are now farther from the station.
“Once you get as far as the new Dinky parking lot — if you’re dropping people off — at that point, you might as well drive them to Princeton Junction,” she added, as the congestion on Alexander Street can no longer be avoided.
Although the shuttle bus takes about three times as long as the Dinky and is subject to variable traffic conditions, Butler called it “a good solution for a difficult situation.”
The shuttle bus will continue to take passengers to Princeton Junction from the original Dinky location at University Place for free until the transit plaza opens in the fall of 2014.