At yesterday’s NJ Transit board meeting, New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Commissioner Jim Simpson issued a call to action to address the ever increasing delays that plague NJ Transit’s rail system. In doing so, Simpson referred to a recent Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the failure to invest in the state’s mass transit infrastructure and the resulting impact on New Jersey’s commuters. The Wall Street Journal reported that NJ Transit commuters are experiencing average delay times of 3 hours and 25 minutes per incident; an increase of 1 hour in 2 years.
Referring to the results of the SCORE card initiative, Simpson reiterated that it is of the utmost importance to rail commuters that they have a “fast, reliable train.” If such service cannot be delivered, Simpson forecasts that people will “choose to leave and move out of the state.”
More than 80% of NJ Transit rail riders use some part of the Northeast Corridor Line (NEC) during their trip, which is owned by Amtrak, but Simpson acknowledged that the system does not have enough funding. In addition to fares, Amtrak receives support from the federal government and $100 million per year from NJ Transit. John Durso, spokesman for NJ Transit, pointed out that these delays are attributable to aging infrastructure; some of which is more than 80 years old.
Simpson vowed to work with Amtrak and the United States Department of Transportation to see what can be done, and he immediately called upon executive leadership to meet, discuss and report upon the capital costs necessary to bring the NEC up to a state of good repair, irrespective of who is financially responsible for the repairs.
But will New Jersey commuters have to bear the burden of these costs through higher fares? Not according to NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein, who assured riders that there are “no fare increases on the horizon.” In his Executive Director’s report, Weinstein called upon Congress to “help move the needle,” saying that now is the opportunity for Congress to increase investment in the NEC and in return, receive a “boost in the quality of life for New Jerseyans and provide real economic benefits.” The Senate’s recently-passed transportation bill maintains funding for Amtrak and transit, while the House version would move the needle in the wrong direction, cutting funding for both.
While it was heartening to hear Simpson urge Congress to step up and increase funding, that is only part of the picture. In testimony before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Tri-State called for an increase in state investment in New Jersey’s mass transit infrastructure. Investment in NJ Transit has been steadily shrinking over the past decade. In 2004, NJDOT dedicated half of its capital program to investment in mass transit, yet in 2012, that investment decreased to a third. Congress should increase investment in transit, but if Trenton doesn’t do its part as well, transit riders in New Jersey will see little improvement in their commutes.