NJ Transit may 'adjust' fare hike plan

March 28, 2010 1:49:48 PM PDT
NJ Transit's top official says the agency may need to "adjust" its proposed service cuts and a 25 percent fare hike. But Executive Director James Weinstein says bus and train riders shouldn't expect "huge changes," citing the $300 million deficit the agency faces for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Weinstein made his comments this weekend, following a series of public hearings on the plan. Most speakers blasted the proposed changes, saying poor and middle-class residents who depend on mass transit can't afford such a steep hike.

NJ Transit's board of directors will vote on the final increase at their April 14 meeting and the changes would take effect May 1.

It last raised fares by about 9 percent in 2007 to accommodate expanded services for record high ridership.

Under NJ Transit's plan, bus and rail fares would rise by 25 percent - $1.70 for local buses and light rails, up from $1.35; and as much as $16.50 on trains, up from $13.75.

Riders could also face the elimination of 32 of 725 commuter trains and service cuts on about 50 bus routes because of lower demand, an assessment several riders called unfounded during the numerous hearings held in recent days.

The changes are part of efforts to offset a $300 million budget shortfall, caused in part by an 11 percent cut in its state subsidy and the loss of $159 million in one-time federal funding.

Besides the fare increase and service cuts, NJ Transit has 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 have said those cuts - expected to save about $30 million - represent the deepest one-year staff reduction in its 30-year history.