Regular readers of this site are painfully aware of the woeful performance of New Jersey Transit’s rush-hour rail service. I bitch about it on a fairly regular basis, so much so that it even gets its own category here (Mass Transit Hysteria). Well, here we go again.

Having met sharp criticism last summer for the train conductors’ lack of communication with hysterical passengers following a train DERAILMENT, the management at NJT decided it was time to do something about it. To quote a recent NJT newsletter, “we hear you, loud and clear”.

Their response? They’re giving the conductors free cell phones with free nights & weekend minutes for their own personal use—to the tune of $1.7 million bucks to the NJT ridership—you know, to increase “communication”.

The last time I read NJT saying “we hear you, loud and clear”, it was in response to the results of a rider survey where we all screamed for more rush-hour trains, because the choices we had were already more crowded than Tokyo’s subways and were perpetually late. Shortly after that newsletter was published, NJT cancelled the 8:00 express from Metropark, leaving riders with the choice of taking the 7:51 or the 8:12, the latter of which suddenly began to run late just about every single goddammned day. I know this because that’s the one I machostically queue up for every day at about 8:10 AM, only to board (on fair average, from calculation) about 8:25. And we’ll not even delve into the realities of the actual New York City arrival time vs. the advertised arrival time. We just won’t even go there. For now.

So it should have been no surprise to me that NJT’s response to poor communication between staff and customer would be to buy them cell phones. I don’t know a single conductor’s cell phone number, and they don’t know mine. Perfect! We complain about the lack of choices, and they give us less choices, or ignore the problem altogether, which is what this “solution” smacks of.

But Doug Bowen, Vice President of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, thinks it’s a wonderful idea. Quoted in a recent Star Ledger article he said: “What do New Jersey Transit’s critics want? Do they want NJT to be part of the 21st century or do they want them to stick with radios?”

Why not? The jet aircraft that just landed at Newark Airport used a radio to enter one of the busiest airspaces on the planet, and negotiate a landing. I’d think that my much lower-tech mode of commuter transit could manage fine on Marconi’s technology too, you moron. Metro-North Railroad seems to agree, budgeting a couple hundred thou for radios for the fleet. Who does Doug Bowen work for? Nextel?

What NJT and the NJ-ARP don’t seem to understand is that NJT rail commuters are fed up with the poor service we get for our buck, and I’m only talking about the on-time record and the seat availability. When you throw in the conductor performance, you’re talking about a truly miserable experience. So when I read that NJT just spent $1.7M to give this army of assholes devices that cannot help the already dismal situation, I get kinda pissed off.

People on the train with cell phones are already annoying enough. To actually EQUIP the most annoying people on the train with the Nextel walkie-talkie phones—on my dime, no less—is an absolute outrage.