NJ Transit approves new fares, service changes

April 14, 2010 5:21:52 PM PDT
NJ Transit bus and rail riders will be paying more to reach their destinations starting May 1.

The agency's board voted Wednesday to increase fares by up to 25 percent for rail and intercity bus service and by 10 percent for local bus and light-rail. The board also eliminated off-peak discounts.

But the board action was not as drastic as originally proposed last month before a series of public hearings. And ultimately NJ Transit officials restored almost $4 million in bus routes and services they previously said would be cut.

The agency faces a $300 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It suffered an 11 percent cut in its state subsidy and won't be enjoying a $159 million in one-time federal funding. The board action Wednesday is expected to eliminate about half the budget shortfall.

"We're not doing this because we like to raise fares," said agency Executive Director James Weinstein. "We're doing this because we have the responsibility to preserve one of the great transit systems in this country."

Before the vote, riders and mass-transit advocates said cutting services and eliminating routes would hit a certain segment hardest, including low-income riders, students, elderly people and riders with disabilities.

Riders will now pay 25 percent more to ride the rails and 10 percent more for bus and light rail.

They eliminated off peak pricing and the 10 trip pass.

With the elimination of off peak pricing, some people will be paying more than a 25 percent increase. Newark for instance, off peak into Manhattan is $7. Peak is $10 dollars, that's about a 42 percent increase. An off-peak ticket from New York City to Trenton is currently $12.50 one-way and $21.50 round-trip. In May, that trip will cost $15.50 one-way and $31 round trip.

Most riders agree that the 10 percent hike for buses is better than the 25 originally proposed, but these days any little bit hurts.

The only good news for riders today, New Jersey Transit's Executive Director seemed pretty certain another hike like this one is not on the horizon.

"Short of the world coming to an end, we're not going to be looking at a fare hike for quite a while at this point," said Jim Weinstein. The agency last raised fares by about 9 percent in 2007 to accommodate expanded services for record high ridership. Weinstein said it estimates a possible drop-off in ridership of about 5 percent as a result of the increases.

No new fare hikes are on the horizon, Weinstein added.

"Short of the world coming to an end, we're not going to be looking at a fare hike for quite awhile," he said.

NJ Transit previously 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' 401(k) plans by one-third.

Officials say those cuts - expected to save about $30 million - represent the deepest one-year staff reduction in the agency's 30-year history.

Also Wednesday, the board approved hiring a financial advisory firm to analyze how best to use NJ Transit parking facilities, including their possible privatization.