Despite strong opposition, New Jersey Transit is moving forward with a 9 percent fare increase and service cuts.
The public comment period (more information below) ended on May 21, and now the official request to move forward with the fare hikes and service cuts has been sent to the Board Administration Committee for consideration at the committee meeting later today. If approved, it will then be sent to the full NJ Transit Board of Directors for final approval at the July 15 board meeting.
Heading into FY2016, NJ Transit identified an “up to” $120 million budget gap in its operation coffers, but was able to reduce the deficit by $42 million with fuel savings, Port Authority Bus Terminal efficiencies, a reduction of scheduled overtime, parts and supplies efficiencies, and renegotiation of service contracts.
For the remainder, NJ Transit is looking to its riders to foot the bill. Based on the higher proposed fare, NJ Transit estimates a revenue increase of $56 million for FY2016 and $74.6 million in FY2017 (the first full year of the increased fares).
The fare hikes come as a direct result of the Garden State’s backslide on investing in transit. In 2005, NJ Transit received a $278 million direct state subsidy for operating. By 2013, that subsidy had decreased to $68 million, and again to just $33 million for 2016, the difference having been made up by redirected money from the Turnpike ($295 million) and a raid on the dedicated State Clean Energy Fund.
The transportation funding structure in New Jersey is broken, both on the capital side and on the operating side. This has resulted in the pillaging of other revenue streams, increased debt and cannibalistic funding practices such as taking from capital budgets to meet operating needs. The right way to address NJ Transit’s $60 million budget shortfall for FY2016 is not a fare hike. The right way is to restore solvency to the Transportation Trust Fund and ensure that NJ Transit has adequate dedicated revenue for its operating needs — something Governor Christie refuses to address.
State leaders must find a way to stave off fare hikes this year while working towards transportation funding solvency (both operating and capital) for FY2017 and beyond. Efforts in Trenton fell apart earlier this year, so Governor Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto — not transit riders — should be the ones to pick up the pieces.
Some quick stats on the public comment period:
- There were a total of 626 written comments submitted on the proposal
- 426 people attended, and 189 spoke, at the 10 public comment sessions
- New Brunswick (5/16) 20 attended, 15 spoke
- Atlantic City (5/18) 26 attended, 11 spoke
- Freehold (5/18) 22 attended, 12 spoke
- Camden (5/19) 22 attended, 20 spoke
- Secaucus (5/19) 60 attended, 20 spoke
- Hackensack (5/20) 47 attended, 28 spoke
- Newark (5/20) 165 attended, 51 spoke
- Paterson (5/21) 24 attended, 10 spoke
- Morristown (5/21) 18 attended, 10 spoke
- Trenton (5/21) 22 attended, 12 spoke