On Thursday, August 16th, the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees held a hearing concerning New Jersey Transit and the difficulties that its riders currently face. 

NJT Executive Director Keven S. Corbett and Transportation Commissioner Diane Guiterrez-Scachetti, whose job also includes the post of Chair of the NJ Transit Board of Directors, were the primary presenters.  Legislators spent more than two hours questioning them, but allowed them to leave before representatives from labor and from the advocacy community, including me, were scheduled to make our statements.

This is the statement that I filed as part of the record of the hearing, on behalf of the Coalition.  It was originally submitted with a number of documents as Exhibits, which are now reproduced here.

 

LACKAWANNA COALITION STATEMENT FOR LEGISLATIVE HEARING 8-16-18

 

I am David Peter Alan. I live and practice law in South Orange. I appear today as Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, which began on the Morris & Essex Line and advocates for better service on NJ Transit on behalf of the riders and their communities, and has done so since 1979.

 

I have been riding on the Morris & Essex rail line and other local transit since long before then, and I can tell you that in my experience, our transit has never been less reliable. For the first time, we never know whether or not a particular train will run, because so many of them are annulled or canceled, often without any advance notice. For commuters, this means waiting for an overcrowded train to the office, getting there late, and risking the consequences on the job that result from arriving late. For those of us who depend on transit for all of our mobility, the damage is much worse. On week-ends, these annulments have forced us to endure gaps of two, three or even four hours between trains; long enough to frustrate our plans for the entire day. This interferes with our lives to a degree that is absolutely intolerable.

 

The Murphy administration, including incumbent management, has blamed the former Christie administration and its anti-transit policies for the difficulties that its riders face. I do not dispute that, but the Murphy administration has been in office for seven months and has continued or exacerbated the failed Christie policies in the areas of employee relations, capital projects management, rail service planning and customer communications.

 

Even before Gov. Murphy took office, his transition chief ordered the forced resignations of some NJ Transit managers and secretaries; an order that was never rescinded. Employee morale plummeted. Executive Director Kevin Corbett blamed the current engineer shortage on engineers “playing hooky”; an assertion that certainly does not help the agency attract dedicated employees.

 

The requirement for Positive Train Control (PTC) first came from Congress ten years ago. Even with a strict deadline coming at the end of this year, incumbent management has been so slow to install the new system that they are cutting service to make equipment available. That is why they are eliminating the Atlantic City Rail Line and cutting service on the Raritan Valley Line after Labor Day without public hearings; a move that we believe violates N.J.S.A. §27:25-8(d), which does not distinguish between temporary and permanent service eliminations in requiring notice and hearings.

 

Management missed an opportunity to alleviate the situation this summer, when they could have consolidated peak-period trains because ridership is lighter in the summer, thereby accommodating commuters on fewer trains while making more equipment available for conversion. This would have reduced the number of engineers needed, which would have substantially reduced or eliminated the current rash of train annulments. The opportunity they missed could cost riders dearly this fall.

 

Management has also kept their customers in the dark until trains are almost due at the station; hours after they are actually annulled. This disrupts our lives, whether we commute or, especially, if we depend on transit. We saw advance notice of a few annulments earlier this week, but much more improvement is needed.

 

This management has demonstrated a disrespect for its riders, its employees, and the law. In addition to the issues I have mentioned, they placed two major items onto Board agendas without giving us notice or the opportunity to be heard, in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. §10:4-9(a). At the Board meeting last Wednesday, my colleague, Joe Clift, asked which Board members came on transit. None raised their hands. I asked the same questions ten years ago, with the same result.

 

Our under-performing transit is not a partisan issue. NJ Transit's problems are systemic, and the fault lies with both parties, including the current administration, and you legislators. The NJ Transit Board was and still is a rubber stamp, which went for more than twelve years, including most of the Christie administration, agreeing unanimously with management on every issue. In 38 years, the Board only voted against management twice, in 1995 and 1996. If this is proper governance, I can't imagine what is not.

 

We riders do not have a single seat on that Board. My own Assemblyman, John McKeon asked me for language for non-political appointment of rider-representatives. I submitted it to him, and I never heard from him again. Neither of the current bills, A-1241 or S-630, do anything to reform NJ Transit; they only add more political patronage to an ineffective Board. They will do nothing to advance the cause of better transit for the riders, so we oppose them. If you are willing to change those bills and allow us to have genuine representatives, including persons like me who depend on transit for all of our mobility, it would be a huge step in the right direction. As an example, I have submitted my own credentials. I understand that there are two seats open, and Gov. Murphy can appoint two transit-dependent rider-representatives now, if he so chooses. A transit board with no riders, and especially no transit-dependent persons, makes as much sense as a highway Board without a single motorist.

 

We can't say much about specific solutions to NJ Transit's current woes, because we are not told enough to assist in making decisions about solving them. That would require seats at the table, which you continue to deny us in the new proposed legislation. 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.