Photo by Donald Winship

Public speaking; people fear it more than death, or heights, or confined spaces [1]. But that very fact is part of its power: spending 5 minutes talking about an issue in front of NJT management and their Board of Directors shows that you really care about it – it’s far more impactful, and more productive, than venting frustration on your smartphone in 140 characters or less.

Don’t believe us? Back in 2010, alongside a massive fare increase, NJ Transit proposed to completely eliminate its WHEELS bus program. Most of the WHEELS busses were shuttles, but a few served as conventional bus service in underserved areas. Two of these, routes 890 and 891, were the only public transit in the city of Phillipsburg near the NJ/PA border. The nearest public hearing was nearly 50 miles away in Morristown, but a group of concerned riders chartered a bus and appeared at that hearing in force. They made compelling statements and focused on the same simple message: we need these busses. Five years later, the 890 and 891 are still running.

These meetings present a unique opportunity to reach the levers of power, with the NJT Board of Directors, NJT Management, and members of the press all in the same room at the same time.

About the Board Meeting

The NJ Transit Board of Directors meets on a monthly basis in meetings that are, per statute, open to the public [2]. The meetings are held at NJ Transit’s headquarters, across the block from Newark Penn Station Map in downtown Newark. The meeting business generally consists of NJT management apprising the Board of recent developments and requesting authorization for major investments.

There have been a couple of important concessions made in the last few years to encourage public participation. First, the public comment period has been moved to the beginning of the meeting, letting individuals and organizations comment on any items that the board is going to vote on before they do so. Second, as of the time of writing (2014), NJ Transit has committed to have two board meetings per year at 6 PM rather than 9 AM. In 2014 these will be in May and September, respectively. Both these changes were advocated for by members of the Lackawanna Coalition and our sister organizations.

The aforementioned public comment period is open to all, with each speaker who signs up allocated 5 minutes. This is your opportunity to take a stand.

What to Expect

Newark Penn Station is one of the largest transit hubs in NJ Transit’s system, which means that there are quite a number of ways to get there. Coming from New York Penn, Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line trains provide direct service to Newark Penn. PATH trains offer a second possible route, and are a faster alternative from lower Manhattan or if there is a major service disruption on NJ Transit rail. The Newark Light Rail provides a link between Newark Penn and Newark Broad St stations – be sure to look at the schedule, however, as the service is not as frequent as a typical subway or the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

There are a few things to be aware of for the day of the event:

  • You should bring at least two copies of your statement – one to read from, and one to present to the Board Secretary
  • A photo ID must be presented at the security desk when entering the building
  • There is typically a short wait before a second security person arrives to take you and others who are waiting to an elevator and up to the meeting room
  • There are two sign-in sheets in the lobby outside the meeting room – one for members of the public who are present and another to sign up to speak. Be sure to sign both
  • Once the meeting begins, speakers are called in the order they signed up

Taking a Stand

The transit system you have is the one you, or people like you, are willing to fight for. So bring your problems, but more importantly bring your ideas. The ability to show why NJ Transit ought to be able to do better, or even to make practical suggestions on what they can do to improve, is one of the two steps that separates those who advocate from those who merely complain. The other is showing one’s willingness to fight for an issue, for as long as it takes to bring about change. Take the first step on that journey: come to the next NJ Transit Board of Directors meeting and take a stand!