How to fix NJ Transit — without raising ticket prices again?
TRENTON — Lawmakers say a report recommending changes at NJ Transit may be delivered to the incoming Phil Murphy administration within the next 30 days.
State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee,said the report will examine how the nonprofit corporation is organized, how much money it will need — and where those funds will come from.
Lawmakers have been holding hearings on NJ Transit for more than a year, talking to experts, reviewing testimony and compiling data.
The announcement comes amid a week of trouble for NJ Transit and Amtrak-owned lines and stations. About 100 trains were canceled or delayed this week as a result of staffing delays and cold weather-related problems.
Murphy's transition team this week asked officials appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to resign from their leadership positions.
The Federal Railroad Administration, meanwhile, has recommended that NJ Transit pay a fine of $12,000 — the largest of its kind — for failing to meet deadlines for implementing positive train control — a type of breaking system meant to prevent crashes by runaway or speeding trains. Two years ago, a woman died after a train crashed into the terminal in Hoboken.
Gordon said policymakers in Trenton are aware of the negative impact NJ Transit is having on the quality of life of commuters, and fixing things has to be “one of the major priorities of the incoming administration."
Gordon said he hopes Murphy will launch a wide search for a new NJ Transit leader, “someone who has a national reputation for running complex transportation systems.”
He stressed the situation needs to be turned around as quickly as possible, but it is going to take some time.
“We need to hire people, and you just don’t hire a locomotive engineer and put that person to work the next day. They sometimes have to go through training programs for many months.”
Gordon pointed out it’s important to figure out a new, dedicated funding mechanism for NJ Transit and begin longterm planning. Currently, money for NJ Transit is appropriated every year by the Legislature.
“We can’t just keep going to the riders for more money to fill the gap. We need to be creative," he said.
He suggested assessing impact fees when a company builds an office building or apartment complex.
“Those projects put additional strain on our infrastructure. There should be a certain amount of funds provided by the developer, who are making substantial profits from these projects.”
Another idea is to exploit state-owned property.
“Can you imagine if we were to sell the air rights over the Lautenberg train station in Secaucus to someone who’s building a condominium? That could generate millions and millions of dollars."
He said if the problem isn't fixed soon, “people are going to leave the state for places where they don’t have to deal with this.”
Shoddy transportation options could also cost the state business opportunities.
“They’re going to look at the commuting situation in New Jersey and say we can’t put our employees through that, let’s go to Austin or Charlotte. We can’t let that happen.”
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