New Jersey's governor, Phillip Murphy, was elected last November on a platform that promised to fix NJ Transit's problems. But seven months into Murphy's administration, things seem to be worse than ever, and Murphy's blaming of the predecessor Christie administration is wearing thin. Just after taking office, Murphy ordered an audit of the agency, saying it would be finished in about 100 days.  That date has long passed, and no audit report is in sight. The situation was reported by Patrick McGeehan for the New York Times (published in print edition on August 21). Republicans criticized Murphy's blaming of his predecessor; Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz (R-Summit) said, "I think he over-promised. It's very convenient to blame everything on Chris Christie, (but) this does now belong to this administration." Munoz was part of a panel of legislators who heard testimony about the state of affairs at NJT. Murphy's transportation commissioner, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, pleaded for understanding, saying that she had had only 213 days to cope with "almost a decade of neglect." NJT's executive director, Kevin Corbett, appointed by Gov. Murphy, admitted what his boss also conceded: "If anything, I underestimated the state of affairs."

A major problem for NJT's rail operations has been a shortage of engineers, and the governor proposed a solution: relax the statutory requirement that "mission-essential" employees be New Jersey residents.  Echoing what commuters have been saying, Murphy agreed that cancellation of trains, mostly attributed to the engineer shortage, was a major problem. The engineer shortage, he said, was "a crisis in itself, one that has left countless thousands of commuters stranded by canceled trains."

David Peter Alan, Lackawanna Coalition chair, testified at the hearing, giving the commuters' perspective. He allowed that it was fair to blame the Christie administration, but "the Murphy administration has been in office for seven months and has continued or exacerbated many of the policies of the Christie administration." Alan said that NJT remains a "very secretive, opaque agency" and that Mr. Murphy had not delivered on a promise to appoint commuters to its board of directors. "There's an old saying that if you're not at the table, you're on the menu, and we transit riders are sick and tired of being on the menu," Alan said.

Criticism of Murphy's approach also came from Martin Robins, a former NJT executive and director emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.  Robins said that Murphy's ordering a full audit may have been a mistake, as drastic actions that are needed are being delayed, awaiting the results of the audit. "Much of this is a problem of having new people on the scene and not comprehending the amount of dysfunction around them. It would have taken a dramatic, almost military takeover of the agency, a willingness to throw people out of their jobs and start anew," Robins said. He said that he thought that the Murphy administration lacked the confidence to take such drastic action immediately. If commuter discontent continues to build, it may be that the governor may be forced to stop pleaded for more time and undertake reforms quickly.