New Jersey Transit recently held a number of hearings around the State on its proposal to increase fares and cut services. The Lackawanna Coalition opposed these proposals for several reasons. Only transit riders are singled out for an increase, for the eighth time since user fees on motor fuels reached their current level in 1988. Our elected leaders, the Governor and the Legislature, should fund NJ Transit appropriately and encourage people to use transit, rather than continually raising transit fares but not user fees for motorists and truckers.
We also object to the proposed service cuts. It is bad transportation policy to eliminate the last runs on rail lines, as proposed for the Boonton Line and Pascack Valley Line, because it forces transit riders to leave New York City unduly early to catch the "new" last train. We also object to the proposed cuts to #872 bus service in Morris County, and instead we call for restructuring of Morris County local bus service.
Rather than higher fares and less service, transit riders should have more and better service, including more Morris & Essex Line trains stopping at Secaucus Station. We believe that the riding public deserves more and better transit; not being required to spend more money for less.
Coalition members appeared and made statements at four hearings: in Secaucus, Newark, Hackensack and Morristown. We appreciate the efforts of all Coalition members and others who made their voices heard. We note new voices of elected leaders and of the union that represents NJ Transit's bus drivers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, raised in opposition to the fare increase and service cuts, and in support of more funding for NJ Transit.
We hope this represents the start of new alliances between advocates for the riders and other concerned persons, which will eventually result in between transit and, therefore, better mobility for everyone in New Jersey.
DAVID PETER ALAN
Chair, Lackawanna Coalition
Should there be ordinary commuters on the NJ Transit Board of Directors? Two nonvoting seats would be assigned to rider representatives under a proposal approved on May 11 by the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee and reported by Larry Higgs for nj.com and published in the Star-Ledger (May 12). Although the two public members wouldn't be able to vote, they could make motions that the voting members could vote on. Under the terms of the bill, the state's eight active Transportation Management Association or other commuter groups would recommend candidates, who would be appointed by the Governor. Some objected to the nonvoting status; Michael Phelan, co-founder of the New Jersey Commuter Action Coalition, said the seats should have voting powers, and that commuter representatives should be assigned the next two vacant voting Board seats.
Read the complete story here.
On May 7, a top official of the Obama administration urged New York, New Jersey, the Port Authority, and other regional bodies to pull together on plans to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. As reported by Patrick McGeehan in the New York Times (May 8), the Peter M. Rogoff, under secretary in the federal Department of Trnsportation, said that new tunnels are ranked as the most important planned piece of rail infrastructure in the country. Washington apparently considers Amtrak's proposed Gateway project as the proposal that's on the table; the White House wants it done, and soon. If one tunnel has to be shut down for maintenance the maximum trains per hour would plummet to six from the present capacity of 24 (with two tunnels in service), which officials gathered to discuss the situation characterized as a "nightmare" for the regional economy. Amtrak, which owns the tunnels, has said that rebuilding them after damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is urgently needed. Nobody disputed the need for new tunnels, but there are few apparent sources for funding it. For its part, the Port Authority has already pledged to replace the aging bus terminal it operates in midtown Manhattan; and Port Authority vice chairman Scott Rechler said he believed that building a new bus terminal in New Jersey, not in Manhattan, could help justify the cost of new rail tunnels: bus riders would transfer to rail for the last leg of their journey. But there is presently no money in Port Authority budgets for either rail tunnels or a new bus terminal. Selling the land under the existing bus terminal, as well as nearby parcels, might help finance the project.
Read the complete story here.
New Jersey Transit has called for fare increases and elimination of some service that affect our area of concern. They include eliminating the last train of the evening from Hoboken on the Montclair-Boonton and Pascack Valley Lines, as well as eliminating the connection between Morristown and the Livingston Mall on the #872 bus.
The Lackawanna Coalition opposes the fare increases and the service cuts, and we will be on hand to make statements at three of the hearings, which will take place within our service area.
They will take place on the three successive evenings after our meeting on May 18th. All hearings will run from 5:30 until 8:30 pm.
Tuesday, May 19th at the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station at Secaucus Junction.
Wednesday, May 20th at NJ Transit Headquarters, One Penn Plaza East, Newark.
Thursday, May 21st at Morristown Town Hall, 200 South Street, Morristown, in the Senior Community Center on the Third Floor
If enough people show their disapproval of these proposals, NJ Transit might listen and make some changes. We urge you to make your voices heard. We will be at the Secaucus, Newark and Morristown hearings. We hope to see you there, too.
Our May meeting will take place on the 18th, the third Monday of the month, due to the Memorial Day holiday. Our presenter will be Louis Hoffman, Program Manager for NJTIP, the New Jersey Travel Independence Program, which is part of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Hoffman, who has ties to Essex County, will explain how NJTIP trains persons with disabilities to travel independently, including using the “regular” services offered by NJ Transit.
At our June meeting, on June 23, Coalition Treasurer Jesse Gribin will present his suggestions for moving New Jersey commuters into and out of New York City until new tunnel capacity under the Hudson River can be built. His ideas are highly relevant, since even one new tunnel will not be open for several years.
On April 20 NJ Transit unveiled a long-rumored plan to increase fares, and is proposing limited service cuts as well. In line with NJT Executive Director Veronique Hakim's promise to limit any required increase to "single digits," the increase would be about 9%, just under the double-digit boundary. As reported by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media and printed in the Star-Ledger (April 21), a typical trip, Metropark to New York on the Northeast Corridor, would rise from $10.00 to $10.75; the one-zone local bus fare would go from $1.50 to $1.60. Two trains apparently would be cut from the schedule, reportedly the last trains at night on the Montclair-Boonton and Pascack Valley lines (the Boonton line cutback apparently involves only service west of Montclair State University, although there is some confusion on this point). On the bus side, a number of routes would be affected: the #655 Princeton-Plainsboro route would be eliminated, along with two seasonal routes, from Philadelphia and Freehold to the Great Adventure amusement park. There would also be service reductions on several routes, including numbers 419 and 463 in south Jersey, as well as the #872, which runs between Morristown and the Livingston Mall. Advocates and commuter representatives reacted in opposition to the proposed increases and service cuts; Lackawanna Coalition chair David Alan, quoted in the Star-Ledger article, said the late-night cuts would discourage discretionary riders, saying "there's not many commuter rail lines with a last run going out (as early as 11 p.m.); most have some trains after 12:30 and 1:00 a.m." Politicians predictably blamed the opposition, but Alan said that Republicans and Democrats are equally at fault for the last two fare increases, and warned drivers that traffic could get worse as commuters shift to driving, saying "Every fare increase on NJ Transit, when there is no similar increase on users of the highway, causes some migration." Seemingly to prove Alan's point, the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles announced that there would be no increase in license fees this year.
Read the full story here.
While NJ Transit has hedged on whether there will be a fare increase this year, a report says that the increase might need to be 9 percent to balance the NJT budget, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media (April 14). The estimate comes from analysis of a review of NJT finances performed by the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), which noted that the NJT budget estimates an increase of fare revenue of 8.8%, but that ridership has been increasing only by about 2% each year. Simple arithmetic suggests that the 8.8% that NJT is relying upon can't be achieved without a fare increase. Meanwhile, Higgs reports, the Wall Street Journal has reported that a nine-percent hike will be announced as early as this week. NJT Executive Director Veronique Hakim has said that if an increase is required, public hearings will be announced by the end of April. One worry for NJT is the likelihood that the railroad will have to pay additional rental fees for the use of the Northeast Corridor and New York's Penn Station; this might add $20 million to NJT's expenses. The increase, paid to owner Amtrak, seems mandated by a 2008 law passed by Congress, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which requires Amtrak to operate "more like a business," with less subsidization of commuter railroads that use its tracks.
See the complete story here.
While NJ Transit has been widely expected to propose fare increases in 2015 because of a reported $80 million budget shortfall, the agency seemed to be hedging its bets in recent days. According to reporting by Larry Higgs in the Star-Ledger (April 7), NJT Executive Director Veronique Hakim has told state lawmakers that a fare increase would be a last resort; NJT spokesman William Smith said the fare increase issue would not be on the agenda at NJT’s April 8 board meeting. Some legislators had objected to any fare incrase. Regarding the budget deficit, NJT seems to have found some remedies: $22 million in clean-air funds apparently will be applied to help fill the gap, and NJT has also found internal cost-cutting efficiencies, all of which have cut the apparent deficit in half. Service reductions are another way to balance the budget, but Smith said that no specific service cuts will be announced at this time, but “that continues to be looked at as part of meeting our budget goals.” The fare increase was not apparently on the agenda at the April 8 Board meeting, but afterwards, Hakim told reporter Higgs that NJT would decide whether a fare increase is necessary by the end of the month. If the increase becomes necessary, there will be a statewide public process of hearings.
Read the April 7 story here.
Read Larry Higg's report on Ms Hakim's comments here.
Monthly commutation fares on NJ Transit's rail lines may be the highest in the country for equivalent distances, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media and published in the Star-Ledger (March 28). Comparing fares for a typical 48-52 mile one-way commute, the article said the NJT fare was a whopping $414 a month; other rail lines in the New York area were cheaper, even after recent fare hikes by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the two other principal commuter lines serving the metropolitan area. MTA's Metro-North Railroad was close behind NJT in fares, charging $407 a month for roughly the same distance, and MTA's Long Island Rail Road was somewhat cheaper at $377. Other lines surveyed by the article include Metrolink in the Los Angeles area, quite a bit cheaper at $321.50 a month, and Virginia Railway Express, serving the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., where fares are a more reasonable $287 a month. And NJT's fares haven't been raised in five years; NJT management has recently raised the possibility of an increase this year, which might put NJT even more out of line, nationwide.
See the complete article here.
NJ Transit has established a new position to direct policy and strategic planning, and named Michael Drewniak, a longtime spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, as its first occupant. The appointment of Drewniak as chief of policy and strategic planning was announced on February 27 by NJT executive director Veronique Hakim, and reported by Ted Sherman for NJ Advance Media in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 28). Hakim said the appointment was "an integral part of my commitment to maximize our resources around safety and efficiency, and move the organization forward in such areas as technology, fare collection and capacity -- all with an eye toward improving the overall customer experience." Drewniak's last day in the Governor's office was Feb. 26, and he expects to start his new post on April 1; he will be paid $147,000, a $13,000 raise over his previous salary working for Gov. Christie. Drewniak earlier worked for the Star-Ledger for 12 years as a reporter, leaving in 1998 to work for the U.S. Attorney's office; Christie kept him on when Christie became U.S. Attorney in 2002, and Drewniak then moved on with Christie after Christie became governor.
See the complete story here.
NJ Transit faces an $80-million budget gap, and fare hikes and service cuts are on the table as possible ways to fill the gap, according to reporting by Larry Higgs of NJ Advance Media and published in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 26). On Feb. 25, Governor Christie unveiled his fiscal 2016 budget without mentioning transportation. NJT said it was preparing proposals for the Governor's consideration. Meanwhile, the state's overall allocation for transportation is set to decline by 8.4 percent, from $1.4 billion to $1.293 billion in the coming fiscal year. Fare hikes are a likely way to fill NJT's deficit; the last fare increase, five years ago, increased fares overall by 25%, but hit occasional travelers with a whopping 46% average increase, combining the general fare hike with abolition of the popular off-peak-round-trip tariff. Service cuts would be another way to balance the NJT budget. Transportation advocates insisted that any fare increase was really a tax increase; but that term is anathema to the Governor as he courts conservatives out-of-state in his quest for the Republican Presidential nomination. The transportation trust fund, in major financial trouble, was not mentioned in the Governor's budget address; many have said that a motor fuel tax increase is a logical way to begin to restore its solvency.
Read the complete NJ Advance Media story here.
Additional reporting by Meir Rinde for NJSpotlight on March 4 here.