NJ Transit is expected by Friday to unveil proposed fare increases of as much as 30 percent and “across-the-system” service cuts on bus and train lines. Executive Director James Weinstein said the agency could make a public announcement Friday that as many as two to four trains will be cut from every line, and fares could jump by the largest amount in years. For example, a $5.50 train ride from Hackensack to New York could cost another $1.50. Many bus riders should also expect to wait five to 10 minutes longer to be picked up at stops throughout the state once the cuts take effect by summer.
Weinstein said NJ Transit has no choice but to ask mass transit users to share the “pain” since the agency is facing a $300 million budget shortfall this year.
“We’re trying to make this painful situation the least painful it can be,” he told The Record’s editorial board Wednesday.
NJ Transit will hold public hearings on the budget from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 25, 26 and 27 in Hackensack, Paterson and elsewhere. Specific locations have not been finalized yet.
The agency’s plans drew sharp remarks from critics who say NJ Transit’s actions will make mass transit “unaffordable,” and force people to choose cars over train and bus service.
“New Jersey may end up destroying one of the best transportation systems in the country,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey’s Sierra Club director.
NJ Transit said it has little choice since the agency faces just under a $300 million shortfall for the next fiscal year and a 11 percent cut in state subsidies, which Governor Christie announced last month.
NJ Transit took the first step in tackling its budget woes Tuesday by freezing spending, slashing its workforce by 2 percent and reducing executive salaries, among other measures.
Weinstein said the state will not consider other ways to raise revenues for mass transit, such as increasing tolls or hiking the New Jersey’s fourth-lowest-in-the-nation gas tax. NJ Transit has not had a fare hike since 2007. The state has not raised its gas tax in two decades.
Christie has vowed not to raise taxes to fix the state’s budget problems, but he has targeted NJ Transit because its budget problems are more serious than other agencies. He also called it “a political patronage mill” that needs to be streamlined.
“The bottom line on it is during the campaign he made a pledge that he wasn’t going to do it [raise taxes] and he’s going to live by that pledge,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein also said ridership is down 4 percent from last year, compelling NJ Transit to “start thinking” of a 4 percent reduction in service.
“Every line is going suffer some sort of reduction,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is keep service reasonably in tact.”
Weinstein promised not to leave trains riders “stranded,” saying off-peak and peak trains will be cut. A Hoboken commuter, he said, may have to wait another 15 minutes to half-hour for a peak-hour train.
He said he doesn’t expect to take away express train service on the Northeast Corridor — which runs from Trenton to New York — and elsewhere, saying that would be “a serious degradation of service.”
Tittel said New Jersey must establish a stable source of funding for mass transit, and the gas tax could be one option for generating such revenues.
“This is lose-lose-lose for the people of New Jersey. It will cost us jobs, hurt the economy, and create more pollution,” Tittel said. Star Ledger.