Wednesday, March 03, 2010

NJ Transit Cuts; Fare Hikes Coming

The state of New Jersey is running red ink as far as the eye can see. They can't bail out NJ Transit and its budget deficit, so the fare hikes and service cuts are coming. NJ Transit intimated that they'd be laying off 200 of the 11,000 workers, but that they're now saying that 30% fare hikes and cutting 2-4 trains per line should be expected.
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.
It's curious that they're looking to make the situation as painless as possible.

A good place to start would be on the pension and other workforce costs that continue to see benefits that exceed those in the private sector. That would be followed by the capital costs for certain projects that have turned out to be boondoggles - particularly Secaucus Transfer. That white elephant continues to saddle the agency's books because it cost hundreds of millions more than it was originally anticipated and it now is planned to be all but obsolete because part of the ARC tunnel plan is to make 1-seat rides into Penn Station from Northern NJ.

Then, there is the underutilized River Line in Southern New Jersey, that has extremely low ridership and hasn't reached critical mass for being cost effective.
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.
NJ Transit ridership may be down 4% due to the recession, but that hasn't translated into any corresponding decline in payroll costs, which continue increasing or increasing efficiencies.

At a time when workers are already getting hammered in the private sector because they aren't getting raises and are barely keeping up with the cost of living, the fare hikes will be yet another cost that will hit people hard.

Raising the gas tax isn't going to help either. The money isn't there - it isn't anywhere in the state budget, so something has to give and while the intention to get people off the roads and onto mass transit are good for the local economy and environment, we're going to end up with a combination of fare hikes and reduced service that will result in lower ridership that will in turn spur more fare hikes and reduced service - a vicious cycle that will spur more people to drive to their jobs.

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