LETTER NJ Transit to Commuters: Drop Dead

Despite the public outcry, New Jersey Transit (NJT) has approved the fare hike and cuts to service to begin this fall. The more than 9 percent cost increase will affect already overburdened transit commuters who could see an increase in fares by $40-$50 per month. NJT claims the increase in fares was made to help close a $60 million budget gap and is necessary even though the agency managed to cut $40 million internally. In comparison to other high population density states, NJT receives smaller portions of their operating budgets from state and local governments or other funding like advertising. That means New Jersey commuters are disproportionately forced to pay more. More government funding and an increase in gas tax could have ended the proposal.


“New Jersey Transit just sold out the commuters of New Jersey. Today they rubberstamped the outrageous fare hike and cut back in services. This is only the beginning of the attack on bus and train riders in our state. This will force people back into their cars and increase traffic and pollution. These changes are the start of the dismantling one of the best transit systems in the country,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Thousands of people came out against this fare hike and NJT basically told them to take a hike. New Jersey Transit has turned their backs on commuters.”


These changes will not provide a stable source of funding for NJT and could cause more pressure on the broken Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). It will force people to use cheaper transportation by car and therefore increase need for road improvements. Since there is no new revenue source for the state’s $1.6 billion TTF there is no money to improve the roads for the former transit riders. The state’s gas tax is the second lowest in the nation and could be a source of funding for the transportation improvements in the state. Since 1988, the gas tax hasn’t been raised, but the fares for NJT have been raised 8 times.


“The legislature and Christie Administration has failed to prevent this disaster for commuters. The message from the Christie Administration to New Jersey commuters: drop dead. This Administration didn’t come up with other sources of funding for NJ commuters and now NJT has voted to do the same. There needs to be a long term solution and a stable source of funding for NJT by increasing the gas tax. The TTF is broken and we must fix it. We should not only be fighting to expand ridership, but to maintain transit systems.  Instead, NJT is raising fares and cutting services,” said Tittel.


The fare increase will increase monthly train commutes from Trenton to New York from $440 to $480. Bus riders in Lakewood will experience a cost rise from $411 to $448 per month. In addition to cuts in service leading more people on the road, it will cause more dissatisfied transit riders unable to afford the fare increase. This will add to traffic, pollution, and sprawl.  People have seen major delays, the breakdown of trains, overcrowding as well as equipment failures. Governor Christie’s transit policies have caused hikes in fares, getting rid of off peak pricing, cuts to service and maintenance all resulting in a drop in customer satisfaction.


“Raising fares and cutting services hurts commuters, the economy, and the environment. This is only the beginning of the financial disaster and added misery for commuters. Since New Jersey Transit receives one of lowest amounts of government funding compared to their counterparts, more of the budget falls on backs of New Jersey commuters. NJT commuters are already overburdened with transportation costs, and this will force more cars on the road. These changes are really a hidden tax on businesses and commuters in New Jersey. It will undermine our economy and productivity. Now there will more be aggravated people because of delays and because they are paying more for less service. This decision will not only hurt the commuters, it will ultimately hurt NJT,” said Jeff Tittel. “The NJT Board blames funding as the source of the fare increase proposal. However, these cutbacks and fare raises won’t solve their problem and will actually decrease ridership.”


Currently the labor unions and NJT are in negotiation on salaries, benefits, and work rules. There are concerns that management could lock workers out or workers could strike since union members have been without a contract for four years. We are concerned that this will give NJT an excuse to cut back more service. Recently, NJ Transit executive director Ronnie Hakim’s claims that the cost of retirement benefits is contributing to the budget gap, while Governor Christie has been in a court over public pensions for transit workers. Despite the state’s newly passed budget which provides $390 million for NJT, the agency claims its growing expenses still require the cost increase. At the same time, commuters have organized boycotts against the fare hike.


“With potential increase in labor costs, where is the money going to come from? Will it lead to higher fares and services? Will there be a strike? The Christie Administration would rather lock out workers than help fund public transportation,” said Jeff Tittel. “There are some commuter groups have boycotted against the fare hike, but that’s exactly what NJT wants. It will give them an excuse to lay off workers, increase fares, and cut service in the future. We need to have protests, but we need to have protests to make the Christie Administration and the legislature accountable to fund transportation.”


Christie’s policies of cutting back in transit services and increasing fares are hurting our transit system. 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. New Jersey’s debt consistently has ranked highest in the nation and now the TTF and NJT is suffering as a result. The state also raided $62 million from the Clean Energy Fund to go towards New Jersey Transit. This year the state budget allows another $22 million will be diverted from the Clean Energy Fund. NJT faces pressure to pay back a state loan and a state subsidy decrease by $13 million. With the TTF running low, this makes the low-repayment even more important to the state.


“When you have outrageous price hikes and service cuts you are pushing people away from mass transit and cause more air pollution. This is terrible for the environment because of the increased greenhouse gas emissions from cars. In today’s climate situation we should be focusing on reducing our carbon footprint through improving public transport, not pushing people towards more traffic and more air pollution from increased car use,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club. “Higher Fares and cuts in service is no way to run a transit system. We can raise transit fares, but not the gas tax? This hike is unfair to everyone. It is unfair to those who will no longer be able to get where they need to go. It’s unfair to commuters who will have to pay more for less and it’s unfair to the children who will have to breathe the air that will become even more polluted by the increased auto traffic resulting from less people using the transit system.”


The meeting took place Wednesday July 15th at 9:00 a.m. in the Board Room at NJ Transit’s Headquarters, One Penn Plaza East, Ninth Floor, Newark, New Jersey