NJ Transit details fare hikes & cutbacks

New Jersey Transit has adopted a new budget.

March 5, 2010 4:14:33 PM PST
Get ready to pay more for fewer choices if you use NJ Transit.James Weinstein, the transit agency's new executive director, announced Friday that he'll seek approval from NJ Transit's board to increase fares by 25 percent systemwide and trim service proportionate to recent ridership declines.

"They will give it the proper review, and I expect them to approve it," he said. "I would be disappointed if they don't."

The changes are part of efforts to offset a $300 million budget shortfall. The agency also had its state subsidy cut by 11 percent - a drop of about $33 million, and ridership is down 4 percent from last year.

The plan calls for most of the changes to take effect May 1, and NJ Transit - the nation's third-largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit - expects the moves will generate more than $140 million in revenue. It last raised fares in 2007, hiking them about 9 percent.

To see the proposed NJ Transit budget, click here to visit www.njtransit.com

"We recognize that any increase is a burden for our customers, particularly during a recession," Weinstein said.

The agency has worked to keep local bus fares below the regional average and preserved discounts for those who depend on NJ Transit the most, including seniors, people with disabilities and students.

NJ Transit plans to eliminate 32 of 725 commuter trains, with at least two trains scheduled for elimination on each of its 11 lines.

Weinstein said a few lines will see a handful of trains cut, mostly those that have the greatest service frequency - such as the Northeast Corridor, where five weekday trains are to be axed.

Meanwhile, the Morris and Essex lines would be reduced by seven trains on weekdays, partly because ridership to Hoboken has declined faster than ridership to New York.

Bus and light rail customers will also be affected by service reductions.

Weinstein said service would be cut on about 50 bus routes, with arrival times growing by a range of five to 20 minutes. Three bus routes operated by NJ Transit will be discontinued, as will several local routes operated by private carriers. The Wheels minibus service also will be discontinued in all 21 counties.

Light rail customers will see service frequency reductions.

Weinstein said intervals between late-night trains on the Hudson-Bergen line would extend from 20 to 30 minutes on weekdays, and redundant weekend service on that line from Tonnelle Avenue to the Hoboken branch would be eliminated.

"Our service plan is designed to size our service to match ridership demand," Weinstein said.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a passenger advocacy group, blasted the agency's plan, saying it will have "a devastating effect" on transit riders. The group also blasted Gov. Chris Christie for cutting the agency's subsidy and "underfunding" mass transit.

"(NJ Transit's plan) will force people to pay more for less service and mean longer commutes and more crowded buses and trains," said Zoe Baldwin, the New Jersey advocate for the nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing car dependency in the state, New York and Connecticut.

"Raising fees on transit riders while avoiding raising fees on car or truck drivers is an unbalanced and inequitable way to fund our transportation network," Baldwin said. "These cuts drive economic and environmental progress backward by forcing more people to drive and creating increased hardship for those without cars who have no transportation alternatives."

Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, had similar concerns.

"The fare increase is a tax on working commuters and will make our economy even less competitive and our roads even more congested," Wisniewski said.

Several commuters at the Trenton train station said they had heard about the plan and while they didn't like it, realized it's beyond their control.

"It's costly to travel whether you do it by car or mass transit, so basically it's a case of pick your poison," Gerald Horton said Friday night.

Weinstein reiterated Friday that the state would not consider other ways to raise revenues for mass transit, such as toll hikes or raising the gas tax - which is the fourth-lowest in the nation and has not been raised in 20 years.

NJ Transit plans to hold a series of public hearings on the plan later this month, with sessions across the state.

The fare increase comes the same week the agency announced an emergency spending freeze along with plans to reduce its work force by about 2 percent, trim executive salaries by 5 percent and reduce corporate contributions to employees' 401K plans by one-third. Officials say those cuts - expected to save about $30 million - represent the deepest one-year staff reduction in its 30-year history.

"Raising fares and reducing service is not something I'm happy about, it's not something we enjoy doing, but we had to take steps to fill our budget hole," Weinstein said.

The public hearings are scheduled in 11 locations across the system from March 25-27. The hearings and information sessions will be held in the evenings and on Saturday to encourage participation.

LINK: www.njtransit.com/budget.

Thursday, March 25, 2010 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Passaic County Community College - Theater
Ellison Street & Memorial Drive, Paterson, NJ
NJ TRANSIT Headquarters - Board Room
One Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ
Trenton Transit Center
72 South Clinton Avenue, Trenton, NJ
Monmouth County Library - Meeting Rooms 2 & 3
125 Symmes Drive, Manalapan, NJ
Friday, March 26, 2010 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station
County Road & County Avenue, Secaucus, NJ
Camden City Hall - Council Chambers (2nd Fl.)
520 Market Street, Camden, NJ
Morristown Town Hall - Senior Community Center (3rd Fl.)
200 South Street, Morristown, NJ
Long Branch Middle School - Auditorium
350 Indiana Avenue, Long Branch, NJ
Port Authority Bus Terminal - Times Square Hall (2nd Fl.)
625 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY
Saturday, March 27, 2010 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Bergen County Freeholders - Public Meeting Room (5th Fl.)
One Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack, NJ
Atlantic City Rail Terminal - Lobby
One Atlantic City Expressway, Atlantic City, NJ