At a recent meeting of New Jersey Transit’s Board of Directors, a Board member apologized for being late, blaming highway traffic for the delay. The following month, a member of the advocacy community living on the same rail line chided him for not taking the train, which got the advocate to the meeting on time and would have done the same for the Board member.

The Board member’s reply was that our transit is not very good, so you need a car to get around.

If there was ever a statement that summarized the plight of unfortunate New Jerseyans who must depend on NJ Transit for all of their mobility, that was it. It also summarized the most basic and farreaching defect in New Jersey Transit’s governing structure.

If an ordinary motorist disparaged the level of service available on NJ Transit, that would come as no surprise. Some schedules (including on the Morris & Essex Line) force riders to miss connections, there is little attention paid to New Jerseyans who wish to travel within their own state. The past decade has seen a number of service cuts on NJ Transit, even though other transit providers are increasing their levels of service.

The person who disparaged our transit was not an ordinary motorist, but a member of the NJ Transit Board, which is charged by statute with the responsibility to govern the agency that provides all the mobility that many Garden State residents have. Under sound principles of governance, it would stand to reason that Board members would fight to improve the organization and to serve the people who need the service which the organization provides. That means NJ Transit’s riders.

That does not happen here. Not a single member of the NJ Transit board depends on transit to get around. We do not know of a single voting member of the Board who, despite being licensed as a motorist, chooses to use transit on a regular basis. As far as we know, and we would like to be corrected if we are wrong, every voting member of the NJT Board rides NJT only occasionally, or not at all.

It is difficult to fathom how a person who never uses an agency’s services can effectively govern that agency. That person can impose service reductions and higher fares on the agency’s powerless riders with impunity. In short, members of the NJT Board are not required to live by the rules they impose on persons who are less powerful and less politically-connected.

It is time for major governance reform at NJT, which we know would require a change in the governing statute. The Board should have genuine rider-representatives; independent advocates who have established their credibility with significant experience fighting for better transit, regardless of the political fallout that could result and regardless of their own political connections or lack thereof.

In the meantime, it is essential that all NJT Board members use transit when they travel to NJT Board meetings and other NJTrelated activities, at a minimum. If that were required, the members of the Board would at least know what it feels like to use transit from time to time, and the particular Board member who disparaged our transit would have arrived at the meeting on time.