[13 min read]
Leaving the vibrant urban areas of Jersey City, Hoboken, Brooklyn, or Manhattan for the New Jersey suburban lifestyle has many benefits.
The homes are more affordable and the schools are excellent. There are young families, safe neighborhoods, street fairs, parks, playgrounds, sports teams, and weekend barbecues with the neighbors.
There is also a dark side; the daily commute into NYC.
The commute can be either tolerable or miserable. It depends upon where you live, where you work, when you leave your house, your mode of transportation, the weather, and if the trains are delayed.
Some towns have a direct train to NY Penn Station, others require transferring trains in Newark.
Parking can be simple at some train stations and a nightmare at others.
Residents who work downtown may drive to Jersey City and take a ferry. Some people prefer taking a bus to Port Authority station. Some will even take the bus in the morning and a train home in the evening. And many avoid public transportation and drive; often leaving their house before 6:00 am.
Each option has its pros and cons. In this "Commuting to NYC" series of articles, I’ll discuss the typical commute time and costs for select northern New Jersey towns.
I’m starting with Westfield because this is where I’ve lived since 2000.
Westfield is a popular New Jersey town with an attractive pedestrian friendly downtown, top schools, and a train station.
People who consider moving to Westfield often look at the nearby towns of Cranford, Scotch Plains, Mountainside, Summit, New Providence, and Berkeley Heights.
Of these seven towns, 402 homes were sold in Westfield over the past twelve months (March 2016 through February 2017). This is more than any of the other towns.
Many of the new residents commute to the City or Jersey City. Their decision how to get to work isn’t an easy one. They may take a train, bus, drive, or even a ferry.
This article will discuss each option in detail. (If you want a summary, skip to the infographic at the bottom.)
Train from Westfield to New York Penn Station
When most people think of commuting to the City, they think NJ Transit.
During rush hour, taking a train into NYC requires changing trains in Newark Penn Station. The transfer is usually less than ten minutes, but it can be a hassle because riders may have to switch tracks.
Riders switch trains because the diesel trains on the Raritan Valley Line cannot go through the tunnels to Manhattan. Only electric trains are allowed.
Westfield passengers disembark their train on Track 5 or Track 1 in Newark. If it's Track 5, they have to walk down the stairs to the station and then up to Track 2. From there, the electric train line goes into New York Penn Station.
NJ Transit has tried to address this problem when it introduced a new dual powered electric/diesel train in 2015 that could go directly into Penn Station. However, it only operates during non-rush hour.
The direct trains start at 9:16 am and run every hour until 1:21 pm. They resume at 7:11pm and run hourly until 10:25 pm.
Westfield commuters are extremely frustrated the "one-seat" rides don't operate during rush hour. The direct train would not only save them about 8 minutes, they wouldn't have to change trains.
Why hasn't NJ Transit added more trains?
Money and politics. There isn't enough money to fix NJ Transit and there are conflicting political interests preventing more dual powered trains on the Raritan Valley Line.
Westfield commuters aren't alone in their frustration. Commuters in the entire region are unhappy.
The NJ Transit challenges are much bigger than not enough direct trains on Westfield's Raritan Valley Line. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey needs to build a third rail tunnel under the Hudson River, add tracks in Penn Station, and replace damaged and aging tracks.
In short, our transit system is a mess.
Explaining the cause of the problem is way beyond the scope of my little blog post. To understand it, read this terrific New York Times article New Jersey Transit, a Cautionary Tale of Neglect by NYT transit reporters Emma Fitzsimmons and Patrick McGeehan.
And to keep tabs on efforts to add more direct trains to Westfield, check out the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition.
In spite of the long-term challenges and daily inconveniences, Westfielders rely upon the train. Taking the rush hour train is part of life.
The rush hour trains from Westfield to NY Penn Station average 56 minutes. However, many commuters feel that delays in Newark are becoming more common. Some Midtown commuters have told me it's not unusual for them to avoid the NJ Transit train in Newark and take the NJ Path.
There's even a Facebook group called The Delayed on NJ Transit Support Group
created by the NJ Commuters Action Network.
Keeping tabs on delays can save a commuter a lot time and there's a new crowd-sourcing app that helps. Clever Commute is similar to Waze, but for public transit commuters.
The monthly train fare from Westfield to NY Penn Station is $273 with a NJ Transit Quik-Tik pass.
Trains from Westfield to Downtown NYC or Jersey City
When passengers destined for Downtown or Jersey City get off the NJ Transit train at Newark Penn Station, they’ll take the NJ Path train to the World Trade Center.
Assuming it takes ten minutes to transfer trains, the trip from Westfield to the World Trade Center NJ Path Station will be 58 minutes.
If passengers are going to Exchange Place in Jersey City, the trip is 54 minutes.
The monthly fare to Jersey City or the World Trade Center is $237 with a pass from both NJ Transit and NJ Path.
If the final destination is Hoboken, add 11 minutes. If it's Newport, add 2 minutes. Both stations require a NJ Path transfer at Journal Square.
Parking at the Westfield Train Station
There is a three-year wait to get a Westfield train station parking permit. For those lucky enough to have one, the cost is $58/month for the station lot and $35/month for a lot a little further away on Watterson Street. (Contact the town's parking office for more information.)
Daily permits for the south side lot are $5/day, but usually sell out by 6:45 am.
There are also daily meters at the station and one block away on Watterson Street. Meters are $0.50/hour or about $110/month (assuming you will be commuting 22 days per month.)
Some early commuters park in empty lots near the YMCA and Lord & Taylor. Unfortunately, these are neither public nor free. By parking there, commuters are not only displacing Y members and Lord & Taylor employees, but they risk getting a ticket.
About a half mile from the station, there is free street parking. Be careful to avoid streets with signs requiring a permit. Westfield parking enforcement is notoriously diligent.
The monthly commuting cost (parking and train fare) to Penn Station is $383. It’s a little less to the World Trade Center or Jersey City, $347.
Bus to Port Authority
Some commuters prefer taking a bus to the Port Authority in the City. They don't have to transfer and it runs more frequently than the trains.
North side residents who live close to Route 22 will often park across Rt 22 at a private lot on New Providence Rd and then catch the 114X or 117 on Rt 22E and New Providence Rd. The bus takes 52 minutes and a monthly pass is $235.
Others take the bus at Lawrence Avenue and Rt 22. The monthly pass is $251.
The NJ Transit bus 113X stops at North & Elm in downtown Westfield. It takes
60 minutes and a monthly pass is $251.
A NJ Transit monthly pass is valid on both the bus and train. It's common for bus riders to take the bus into the City and a train home.
Downtown Via Jersey City Ferry
Another option for those who work downtown is to drive to Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City and take the Ferry to the financial district (World Financial Center is near the WTC Memorial).
If the drive is before, or during the early part of rush hour, it should take 30 minutes to arrive at Liberty Landing Marina. The walk to the ferry is about 10 minutes and the ferry ride is 15 minutes. The ferries leave every 30 minutes.
The commute time is comparable to the train and bus provided there isn't unusually heavy traffic.
Parking is $7/day and the ferry is $14/day. However, the discounted monthly fees are $154 for parking and $220 for the ferry.
Commuting to the Financial District by ferry will take 65 minutes and cost $374/mo.
Driving to Midtown
Some brave commuters prefer to drive. If you leave Westfield before rush hour, you can arrive at midtown in 50 minutes. If you drive during the light part of rush hour, add 15 minutes. And, in the middle of rush hour, it could be 90 minutes or more.
Tolls going into the City include Garden State Parkway, NJ Turnpike, and the Lincoln tunnel. Returning home there is no Lincoln Tunnel toll. Daily tolls are $20.40.
Once you arrive in the city, the time it takes to arrive at the parking garage can be its own commute. Rush hour traffic in Manhattan isn't pretty.
Parking in NYC is expensive. There are some parking garages that charge as little as $257/month, but most are more expensive. I have a friend who parks near the Port Authority to avoid city traffic and he pays $40/day.
There are a lot of variables to driving into the City. Best case scenario, driving to the City will take you 55 minutes and costs will be at least $705 per month.
Alternative Train Stations
Since there are no direct trains during rush hour, some Westfielders drive to Metropark, Rahway, Newark, Linden, or Summit train stations.
Rahway Train Station
The train ride from the Rahway station to NY Penn Station is 42 minutes. The drive to the station is 17 minutes. Commute time is comparable to the above options, without having to change trains.
The daily round-trip fare is $18.50 or $270 per month.
There are a few options for parking at the Rahway station. There is a parking deck that is $100 per month, a lot for $85 per month, and metered spots at $7/day which equates to $154 per month.
If you opt to drive to Rahway station to avoid changing trains in Newark, the total commute time from Westfield is 59 minutes and the cost is about $370 per month.
Metropark Train Station
Metropark station is a 14-minute drive from Westfield and the train ride to NY Penn Station is 44 minutes.
The daily fare into the City is $21.50 round-trip or $310 per month.
There is a six month waitlist to get reserved parking in the garage. It costs $130 per month. Unreserved parking is available at $70/month and daily parking is $5.
A major inconvenience with commuting from Metropark is that it can take 20 minutes to enter or leave the station because of the parking structure's limited ingress and egress.
The commute time to NYC Penn Station from Metropark is 58 minutes and the cost is about $380 per month.
Newark Train Station
Driving to Newark train station from Westfield is about 29 minutes and the train ride to NY Penn Station is 20 minutes. Assuming a 7 minute walk from the parking lot to the station, the total commute time is 56 minutes.
The monthly NJ Transit pass is $188.
The closest parking is adjacent to the station at Parkfast, 50 Commercial Street. The cost is $185 per month.
For commuters going to the World Trade Center station, the trip from the Newark train station is 23 minutes and a monthly pass is $89.
Commuting from Westfield via Newark Train Station to NY Penn Station takes 56 minutes and costs $373 per month. Going to the WTC takes 59 minutes and costs $274 per month.
Linden Train Station
Some Westfield commuters on the south side, drive to the Linden train station to catch a direct train on the Northeast Corridor Line. The drive from Westfield is about 17 minutes and the train ride to NY Penn Station is 40 minutes. Assuming a 7 minute walk from the parking lot to the station, the total commute time is 64 minutes.
The monthly NJ Transit pass is $254 and station parking is $75 per month.
Commuting from Westfield via Linden Train Station to NY Penn Station takes 64 minutes and costs $329 per month.
Summit Train Station
Some Westfield commuters on the north side, drive to Summit train station to catch a direct train into NY Penn Station. The drive from Westfield is about 17 minutes and the train ride to NY Penn Station is 43 minutes. Assuming a 7 minute walk from the parking lot to the station, the total commute time is 67 minutes.
The monthly NJ Transit pass is $298 and station parking is $220 per month.
Commuting from Westfield via Summit Train Station to NY Penn Station takes 67 minutes and costs $518 per month.
That's it! I'm sure there are other options, but these seem to be the most common. Below is a summary infographic.
Note: I completed a first draft of this article on April 16, 2017 and posted it in the Westfield Facebook Group. I received dozens of suggestions which I incorporated into this version. If you find any mistakes or have suggestions, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!