Monday, April 12, 2010

NJ Transit Adjusts Fare Hikes; No One Should Cheer

While some may cheer that NJ Transit is planning on increasing bus fares by 10% when they had initially proposed increasing the fares 25%, this is all part of the game that NJ Transit and other agencies play. They set forth a gloom and doom proposal and when the cuts appear to be slightly less than initially proposed, we're supposed to cheer at the cost savings and prudent fiscal acumen?
A number of bus services - totaling $3.9 million - have been restored, though NJ Transit offered no specifics. The agency invited users to visit its website

The agency says it has no other solutions for plugging a $300 million budget hole and replacing an 11 percent cut in state funding, which Governor Christie announced last month.

The original 25 percent hike plan drew outrage from rail advocates and riders who fear that mass transit will become unaffordable, forcing people to choose their cars over trains and buses.

The agency also wants to cut about two trains per line and reduce a number of bus lines throughout the state.

NJ Transit has not had a fare hike since 2007.
That's all so much nonsense.

The NJ Transit budget needs to be seriously addressed, and the fact that the state has no money to help balance the agency may actually help to see that some of the more pressing matters get addressed.

Why is NJ Transit in this hole in the first place. Part of it has to do with benefits and a workforce that are unsupportable based on revenues and state support. Part has to do with bad decisions made by NJ Transit officials for years - such as building massively expensive projects that saddle the agency with debt payments that continue for years, even though the projects themselves were overbudget and affect a small number of customers.

The Secaucus Transfer project was hailed by NJ Transit as a way to link 11 of 12 rail lines in a single place for the first time to allow customers to transfer between rail lines heading to New York and those coming from Bergen County. The costs ballooned, the scope was such that it didn't have park and ride capabilities until last year, and remains tremendously underutilized.

Moreover, the NJ Transit plan is to make it obsolete as part of the ARC Tunnel project to make a direct ride to Penn Station from the Bergen and Pascack Valley lines.

The Secaucus Transfer decision will linger for years to come, but it's hardly an anomoly. Ramsey Route 17 is another such mistake where NJ Transit official built a new station and a parking garage despite two other stations nearby. All three stations remain open, but the Ramsey station is badly underutilized. Consolidating the stations would mean closing one or more stations (Mahwah or Ramsey) that are located in the downtown areas for both towns. That would present a cost savings, but instead NJ Transit has to carry all three stations - including providing stops at all three.

At the same time, infrastructure at other stations goes wanting because of a lack of funds to update and maintain stations.

None of this is addressed in the next budget, but it's time that commuters and the state legislature and Gov. Christie take NJ Transit to task for its decisions, and not just the budget.

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