Ex-Amtrak manager William Crosbie will not be taking the NJ Transit Executive Director job after all, according to media reports, first broken by the Wall Street Journal. Reportedly, Crosbie was reluctant to relocate his family to New Jersey. Later reports noted that a compensation package had not been agreed upon before the announcement, and that, unusually, the negotiations were being managed by the state Department of Transportation, not by NJT. NJT said the search for a new Executive Director would continue.
With NJ Transit facing a reported $45 million budget gap, and Gov. Christie having proclaimed there would be no fare increases this year, advocates are expecting the worst: service cuts, noting that the Governor said nothing about reducing service. Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan, quoted here by Larry Higgs in the Star-Ledger (April 19), said "I am deeply concerned there will be severe service cuts, especially to off-peak riders. No fare increase means service cuts. (Christie) didn't pledge no service cuts." NJT spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said that the agency "anticipates additional receipts and reimbursements through the remainder of the fiscal year to mitigate the budget gap" but declined to be specific. Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, said, "They'll probably have to lay off non-union workers, freeze salaries, look at bus lines and rail trips that have the lowest ridership and eliminate some." Matt Walters, co-founder of the New Jersey Commuters Action Network, said he was concerned about the effect on riders who have no alternate means of getting to work. Advocates generally criticized the perennial underfunding of NJT by both the Governor and both political parties, and said a dedicated funding source is needed. Mr. Alan said, "These are decisions made at a political, not an operating level. It's support and recognition by politicians that NJ Transit riders deserve mobility (that is needed)."
Ever wonder why many cars seemed to be closed on your train? Sometimes even the coveted, ballyhooed "Quiet Cars?" NJ.com reporter Larry Higgs reports that many riders have this complaint; he reported it here. NJT spokesperson Jim Smith said those cars are supposed to be open, barring unusual conditions such as "platform work or to ease crowding at a particular station." (How does closing cars ease crowding, the rider may well wonder.) Higgs asks riders to report cases where cars are inaccessible.
Former Amtrak executive William Crosbie has been named by NJ Transit's Board to the vacant job of executive director. The Board action on April 6 has been widely reported in media, here by NJ.com commuter reporter Larry Higgs and Emma G. Fitzsimmons here in the New York Times. Well in advance of the formal announcement, the story had been broken by the Wall Street Journal; in the Journal's reporting, former colleagues described Crosbie as "an engineer by training and a shrewd manager who understands railroad operations and would make customers' experience a top priority." Crosbie succeeds Veronica Hakim, who left NJT last year for a top job at New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to oversee the city's bus and subway system. Dennis Martin, NJT's bus operations head, had run NJT on an interim basis since Hakim's departure, and will now return to his bus job. Crosbie underwent several interviews for the position, including extensive interviewing by NJ Gov. Chris Christie, and has been widely acclaimed as an experienced railroad operations person; former Amtrak chief executive David Gunn said "He is a very capable person, and those people are very rare." But Crosbie's job will not be an enviable one, according to Martin Robins, former director of Rutgers' Voorhees Transportation Center, quoted by the WSJ. "He will have nothing to do but cut, cut, cut," in an underfunded organization that has not received support from New Jersey's governor or legislature.
Although the proposed agreement which avoided a rail stoppage at NJ Transit was widely acclaimed, it still must be approved by the 11 unions involved. Each union votes separately on the details of their own contract. As reported by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media (April 1), the Machinists union has become the first to accept the new contract, with over 90% of members voting to approve. Other unions must also approve, and a final signoff by NJ Gov. Christie is also required, but since Christie has already lauded the contract terms, that is expected to be a formality.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in an interview (March 31) on radio station NJ-101.5, says that although NJ Transit faces a $57 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, it's up to NJT to manage it, as long as they finish the year with no deficit. Gov. Christie also said that there would be no fare increase in 2016. (Reporting on WNYC, March 31) It was not clear whether the no-fare-increase was an order from the Governor, or whether NJT in its budget management process had determined that a fare increase this year is not necessary.
As unions begin voting on Tuesday, March 15 on the proposed new contract with NJ Transit, details of the deal are starting to emerge. If the reports are correct, the union negotiators achieved most of their demands, and the final contract is close to what the union negotiating position was -- the recommendation of the Presidential Emergency Board before the final negotiations began. According to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media and reported on nj.com and in the Star-Ledger (March 15), the much-discussed worker contribution to health benefits would increase from 1.8% to 2.5% of straight time salary, a hair over the Board's recommendation of 2.48%. The contract also reportedly grants at 21% salary increase over the 8-1/2 year term of the contract; the Board had recommended an 18% increase over 6-1/2 years. Significantly, sources said the contract would cost NJT a total of $209 million through the contract's end in 2018, compared to original estimates of $183 million for a contract ending in 2017. NJT had called the $183 million cost unaffordable. Gov. Chris Christie had said that no fare increases would be required through Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1, 2016. But some analysts speculated that the costs could be back-end loaded and become due after 2017 -- perhaps falling due after Christie leaves office.
The settlement had been announced with only 29 hours left before the strike deadline; the deal was announced by union representatives at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 11. Union members reportedly cheered when informed of the agreement by union leader Steve Burkert. At about 7:30 p.m., Gov. Chris Christie held a press conference; he emphasized that "no outrageous demands on either side were granted;" that he had been closely following the negotiations but, while available, he did not need to come to the table himself; that he never expected a strike or a lockout because both sides were acting in good faith; and that "neither side was spoiling for a strike." He said that the "hysteria" in recent days was "ginned up" by the media.
Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan was quoted in by Higgs in an earlier article as saying, "This was probably the hardest labor negotiations since 1983 when NJ Transit rail was formed and they had to negotiate new agreements from the predecessor railroads. I know they went right down to the wire and I thought we likely were not going to have trains on Sunday."
Throughout the duration of the dispute between New Jersey Transit and the employees who keep the trains running, the Lackawanna Coalition has consistently expressed its hope that both sides would reach an agreement, and that the trains would continue to take riders to their destinations safely and comfortably. We are delighted that, indeed, such an agreement has been reached and that the trains will continue to run.
We know the people on both sides of the bargaining table, and we appreciate their efforts in keeping negotiations going, until they reached a successful conclusion. We express our appreciation also to our Online Editor John Bobsin for posting the news on this site, and we hope we have kept you well-informed, from the view of the people who are always advocating for your mobility.
There is still more to be done to improve our trains, but now we will be able to move forward in an atmosphere of peace between labor and management. We remain as committed as ever to better transit for all riders in the region, and we always want to know what we can do to help improve your transit, whether you have an automobile and choose to use it, or you depend on it for all of your mobility.
Before a tentative agreement was reached (see above) to avoid a threatened March 13 strike, NJ Transit said they were taking steps for an orderly shutdown of the rail system, although NJT said that the steps would be 'largely invislbe' to the public. Despite early optimism that a settlement might be forthcoming by Thursday, talks adjourned without any resolution, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for nj.com. WNYC Radio reported that the talks ended on a "sour note," after NJ Transit apparently sent a notice to the employees to the effect that health care benefits would be suspended in case of a strike; NJT said such a notice was required by federal law. Union spokesperson Steve Burkert said "We object to NJT's conduct in this matter while the parties are fully engaged in the negotiation process." Reporting by Andy Newman and Emma G. Fitzsimmons in the New York Times (March 10) covered employers' arrangements in case of a strike: altered work hours and locations, work-at-home, and even emergency sleepover rooms. The negotiating teams will return to the table at 10 a.m. on Friday. Union spokesperson Burkert had earlier said that a strike on Sunday, after the federally-mandated cooling-off period expires, is not mandatory. A management lockout is also possible, but NJT interim executive director Dennis Martin has said that NJT does not plan to lock out its employees. A main sticking point in the negotiations has been how much employees will pay for their health insurance; the union wants to limit employee contributions to 2.5% of the total premiums, which is said to be typical at other commuter railroads; NJT wants the workers to pay 10-20% of the premiums.
The impact of a strike, which could start on Sunday, could be severe. The Partnership for New York, a business group, estimated that every hour employees are delayed getting to work would cost $5.9 million, saying "A transit strike is among the most expensive events that can happen to New York City." Transportation consultant Sam Schwartz predicted traffic jams of up to 23 miles on highways leading to Manhattan. NJ Transit itself predicted increased travel times of an hour or more in the alternate transportation schemes it has arranged, involving park-and-ride with buses to ferries or the PATH transit system, which would continue to operate, and even the alternate schemes would only handle a fraction of the regular passenger load; the alternatives are only for peak hour commuters. Some local communities announced their own alternative bus services to Manhattan for stranded commuters, including Morristown and Morris Township; each will charge $25, cash only, and buses will leave when full, starting at 5 a.m. at the Morristown station and 6 a.m. at Convent Station. The service at Convent Station requires that riders hold a monthly parking pass at that station. Metro-North Railroad service west of Suffern will also be suspended in the case of a strike; Metro-North announced that bus service for their riders will operate from Harriman and Middletown.
New Jersey Transit announced its contingency plans today, if a strike or lockout should halt all NJT rail service beginning Sunday, March 13th. While all train riders in North and Central New Jersey will feel the pain, our primary lines of concern will be among the hardest-hit. There are few bus routes on NJT that run from points along our lines to New York City, and the NJT and privately-operated bus routs in the area will not be able to accommodate most of the riders who now take the train. Some places on the lines have buses to Newark and other localities, but these buses will not be able to absorb many of the train riders, either.
There will be enhanced service on certain bus routes, and the primary change is that there will be four temporary park-and-ride bus services: Ramsey-Route 17 Station to the Port Imperial Ferry in Weehawken, Metropark Station to Harrison for connection with PATH trains, Hamilton Station to Newark Penn Station and a shuttle bus between Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands and Port Auithority Bus Terminal. Academy Bus will also serve a park-and-ride lot in Monmouth County. These services will operate only during weekday peak-commuting hours, and only in the direction going toward New York City.
It is difficult to blame NJT management for this schedule, even though it offers very little for riders on the Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton or Gladstone Lines. The Port Authority Bus Terminal is crowded to capacity at peak-commuting times, and there is little room for extra buses. The highways will also be clogged with motorists who commute by train. The situation will be difficult for motorists, and people who depend on transit will have very little mobility.
NJ Transit shut down service before the blizzard struck on Saturday, Jan. 23, which meant that the Garden State had essentially no public transportation until service came back over the next three days. Did management make the right decision?
John Bobsin, our Online Editor and former Vice-Chair, says YES:
As the blizzard of Jan. 23 bore down on the Northeast, no one could say it was a surprise: TV weather forecasters had accurately predicted the course of the storm for days. Of course, there was always the element of uncertainty: what if it goes out to sea? With the clock ticking, transit managers faced the usual, unenviable decision: tough it out and keep running, or take the safe course and shut down operations, risking media opprobrium should the storm prove a bust.