LETTER – NJ Transit Strike and Censorship

Despite a looming New Jersey Transit strike, the board will continue business as usual with a meeting tomorrow. As tensions flare over salary increases and health benefit contributions, more than 4,000 workers could go on strike as early as March 13th. NJ Transit workers haven’t had a contract since 2011 and the strike could displace more than 105,000 commuters. At the time of this crisis, Governor Christie has just left for vacation. The Christie Administration could have prevented this possible strike by funding the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Instead, the Administration has consistently cut services and raised fares instead implementing funding mechanisms such as raising the gas tax. The Administration’s failure to fund public transportation has created this disaster. An additional issue on the Board’s agenda will be to censor advertisements at NJ Transit, which we believe is unlawful and shows the failing transit system does not want the public to advocate for better service or criticize the agency.

 

“With the Governor leaving for vacation during a possible transit strike, it looks like the Christie doesn’t really care about commuters. Instead of trying to come to an agreement with the unions on an appropriate wage hike, they’re trying to force them into a strike. This is outrageous because it will displace over one hundred thousand commuters and their plan to handle a strike is entirely inadequate. Since we haven’t raised the gas tax or come up with a funding source for the unions, the Administration’s failure to fund transportation is driving this potential strike,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

Last summer’s service cuts and fare hikes were made to close a $60 million gap in the budget. In comparison to other high population density states, NJ Transit receives smaller portions of their operating budgets from state and local governments or other funding like advertising—which means our N.J. commuters are forced to pay more. Since 1988, the gas tax hasn’t been raised, but the fares for NJ Transit have been raised 9 times. All along, the Christie Administration has continuously balanced the NJ Transit budget by stealing money from clean energy. As a result of the Christie Administration’s method of pay-as-you-go financing for capital, the state borrowed a total 97.4 percent of all transportation capital costs during his first four years in office. The state raided $62 million from the Clean Energy fund to go towards New Jersey Transit.

 

“New Jersey Transit has been raising fares and cutting services to NJ Transit for too long. Now they’re looking to provoke a strike. Services have gone down, there are more delays and breakdowns, and now maybe a strike. This is hurting the commuters and hurt our economy because thousands of commuters may not be able to get to work. New Jersey’s debt consistently has ranked highest in the nation and now the TTF and NJT is suffering as a result. We once had one of the best transit systems in the country, but the Christie Administration’s mismanagement and failure to fund transportation almost ruined it,” said Tittel.

 

An item on the agenda tomorrow includes re-adoption with amendments to NJ Transit’s advertising standards. We are concerned that this proposal violates the first amendment because it will not allow so-called “political” advertisements. That means any ads that criticize the agency would not be allowed on placards or signage- which is unlawful considering a public agency cannot censor information.

 

“By trying to censor public opinion, NJ Transit wants to block advertisements because they do not want any other opinion other than their own. This attempt is part of their arrogance and abuse of power. NJ Transit is trying to block other groups that may advocate for better service and lower fares. This is ridiculous, especially given they could use the revenue. They want to censor placards and signs on NJ Transit buses and trains because they do not want ads attacking their bad services,” said Jeff Tittel. “While services have been cut, there have been hours of delays, over-crowding as well as equipment failures. Dissatisfied transit riders cause more people to drive, adding to traffic, pollution, and sprawl. After the outrageous price hikes and service cuts NJ Transit are pushing people away from mass transit. This amendment shows they do not want people to advocate for better public transit.”

 

New Jersey has the worst smog in the nation from car and truck pollution. We should be promoting public transportation as a way to reduce our impact on climate change.  The failure to have good and reliable public transit is bad for the environment because it will out more people in cars and increase pollution.

 

“NJ Transit is a train wreck and the wheels are coming off our buses. Compared to motorists, many transit commuters feel an unfair burden of increased costs, while the gas tax has not been increased. The people of New Jersey are paying more to drive cars and are stuck in traffic longer, causing more pollution and traffic for all of us. It also pushes people out of mass transit and onto the roads that we don’t have money to fix. It is outrageous that instead of considering a gas tax, the state has consistently turned to transit riders and employees to fix their deficits. The Governor is in Florida during this transit strike, which shows how much he cares about public transit, people getting to work, and our environment,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

Tomorrow’s board meeting will be held at NJ TRANSIT’s Corporate Headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. The meetings will convene at 9:00 a.m. in the Board Room at NJ TRANSIT’s Headquarters, One Penn Plaza East, Ninth Floor, Newark, New Jersey. The Agenda can be found here:

http://www.njtransit.com/AdminTemp/2016_03_09_BoardItems_Final.pdf.

 

 

 

Toni Granato

Administrative Assistant

New Jersey Sierra Club