Desperation, anger, and fear were the dominant emotions during the first day of public hearings on New Jersey’s doomsday plan for transit. In Newark, Trenton, Manalapan, and Paterson, hundreds of commuters voiced their vehement opposition to the Christie administration’s proposed 25% fare hike and system-wide service cuts.
At NJ Transit Headquarters in Newark, even the lobby was standing room only. Packed into the modest board room, commuters shared stories of tight budgets and long commutes. Kimberly Eastwood, a single mom from Ocean Township, broke into tears as she described how the plan will slash her family budget. Ms. Eastwood lives in Ocean Township, but commutes to Newark every day to her job at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield; after May 1, her monthly ticket could cost $289 each month. A 25% jump in travel costs and diminished service threatens transit riders’ mobility and livelihoods, and will largely be drawn from the wallets of the elderly, poor and disabled — a point hammered home by the hundreds of attendees at last night’s hearings. Agency staff will review testimony from the three days of hearings and see what changes (if any) can be made, and the Board will vote on April 11.
The only question that remains is whether Governor Christie, the legislature, and NJ Transit are listening. Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Zoe Baldwin called for a restoration of funding, but also made several recommendations to ease the burden: reduce the severity of service cuts by using federal stimulus dollars for NJ Transit operations; postpone a portion of the fare hike; and lower the increase for bus riders. What the agency and state are willing to do to reduce the severity of the fare hikes and service cuts remains to be seen.
Photo: Zoe Baldwin/TSTC.