NJ Transit fare hikes take effect

May 1, 2010 2:23:21 PM PDT
NJ Transit bus and rail fares went up sharply on Saturday, and riders like George Gervich aren't happy about it.

"I depend on the buses to get around, to do my shopping, for pretty much everything" the 39-year-old Lakewood resident said Friday. "This will just make it harder to balance my budget, and a lot of other people in this area will have the same problem."

Fares went up to 25 percent for rail and intercity bus service and by 10 percent for local bus and light rail. Off-peak discounts have been eliminated.

The agency has said the increases - the first since fares went up about 9 percent in 2007 - were made necessary by a $300 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. NJ Transit also saw an 11 percent cut in its state subsidy.

The agency has imposed an emergency spending freeze and 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.

Still, Gervich and other bus and rail riders don't want to pay more to reach their destinations.

"I understand why it's needed, I understand it's been awhile since they had a rate hike, and I understand I have to live with it, but I don't have to like it, and I don't one bit," Gervich said.

Some passengers, such as Howell resident Mary Franklin, said they tried to beat the pending hike by buying monthly passes for May in April, but found they already were printed with the new fares included when they went on sale April 19.

"Couldn't even catch a break there," Franklin said. "I'd love to tell you what I really think about these hikes, but I'm too much of a lady to do that."

Customers who receive passes through QuikTik and other programs by mail still were able to pay the lower fares. NJ Transit says that happened because the agency starts processing those orders on the 10th of each month, so such orders for May already had been bought and processed before the fare hike was approved April 14.

Penny Bassett Hackett, an NJ Transit spokeswoman, said Friday that data on how many monthly passes were sold in April had not yet been compiled, so it wasn't known whether more riders than normal sought to get monthly passes before the fare hike took effect.

At Newark's Penn Station, a line with as many as 40 people snaked through the building late Friday morning as commuters stocked up on tickets before the increases went into effect. Among them was one man who held up a fistful of one-way tickets and said ticket agents had told him they were restricting customers to buying 10 tickets at a time during peak times and up to 30 at off-peak hours, in an effort to move lines along.

Others decried the increases as favoring motorists over mass-transit users.

"They're telling me this trip is going to cost $10 dollars more," said Nancy Colasurdo, a writer from Hoboken who was traveling from Newark to Point Pleasant to visit family. "I don't own a car, and I rely on mass transit. It makes me grateful I don't have to take this trip more often. It's just an uncalled-for burden on people."

Plainfield resident Andre Daniels was returning to Trenton on Friday after picking up some personal documents in Newark. The off-peak round-trip ticket that cost him $15.75 will cost $23 beginning Saturday.

"I was surprised when I heard" about the increases, Daniels said. "I figured I'd better use this while I still had time."

Associated Press Writer David Porter in Newark contributed to this story.