Commuting by train is one of life’s great joys, someone said never, but there are little perks that help ease the burden: A cup of hot coffee helps, and a newspaper or book to pass the time. And, while you’re waiting, a place to sit down.
For those who must avail themselves of New Jersey Transit out of New York’s Penn Station, that last modicum of creature comfort and human dignity vanished without explanation earlier this month. Adding insult to, well, insult, the extraction — which removed every single seating surface on the terminal’s main concourse — took place not long after the transportation agency announced proposed fare hikes that would add nearly 10 percent to the average straphanger’s daily outlay.
Not surprisingly, riders have not taken the news sitting down.
A few griped on Twitter, as people on Twitter are wont to do.
Who was the smart person @NJTRANSIT that decided to remove all the seats from the waiting area in Penn Station?? pic.twitter.com/9VvwRlQ2sV
— Nicole Jay (@NicoleJayBeauty) May 17, 2015
There was some salty language…
Why the Fuck did they get rid of the benches in Penn Station?! Just tryin to sit before I sit on a train.
— Matthew Florez (@Mistermattsir) May 15, 2015
Some maniacal laughter…
HAHAHAHA but like why did penn station get rid of the seats in the waiting area????
— Joyce Chen (@jch3n) May 17, 2015
And — perhaps inevitably — the dreaded Nazi comparison…
There aren’t even any benches in the NJ Transit terminal at Penn Station anymore. Way to be the biggest Nazis.
— John Saavedra (@johnsjr9) May 17, 2015
To be fair, commuters weren’t all that happy when the lower-level seating was intact…
The benches at penn station are beyond uncomfortable
— ☚ (@itstotallykyle) December 8, 2014
The move is not particularly well-timed, as NJ Transit is likely on the verge of a 9 percent fare increase for rail, light rail, and bus service. And that’s in addition to potential service cuts — including the elimination of a late-weeknight train to Rockland County — to help close a $60 million shortfall in the 2015–2016 budget.
So commuters are bound to be extra-pumped about paying more to sit on the floor.
Maybe the seats were pawned for some quick cash?
Turns out no.
An NJ Transit spokeswoman says the seats were merely moved to make the main waiting area less congested. It was not, she makes clear, done to reduce loitering.
Of course, that doesn’t quite jibe with the notice the agency posted on the walls, on bright-yellow paper, every few feet above where the benches used to be: “One-Hour Ticketed Seating Relocated.”
The spokeswoman emphasizes that the overall number of seats in the terminal remains the same. They’re just in a different place now.
So far, anecdotal evidence — which is to say, “glancing around” — would seem to indicate that New Jersey Transit customers have responded to the change not by moving their buttocks to the upper level, but by plopping said keisters on the stairs and the floor in the main corridor.
A careful observer might conclude that a passenger waiting for a train prefers to do so in the closest possible proximity to the main access point to the train platform.
Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Voice, covering criminal justice, legal issues, and the occasional mutant park squirrel.