NJ Transit Fare Hike - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

NJ Transit Fare Hike - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
John S. Wisniewski
March 19, 2010

NJ Transit is the nation’s third largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit, operating a fleet of...

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NJ Transit Fare Hike - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

March 19, 2010

NJ Transit Fare Hike - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
John S. Wisniewski
March 19, 2010

NJ Transit is the nation’s third largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit, operating a fleet of 2,027 buses, 711 trains and 45 light rail vehicles that service 223 million passengers a year. Earlier this month, NJ Transit announced they will be increasing their bus and train fares by 25 percent and reducing service on some lines in the hopes of raising more than $140 million in revenue.

This increase is nothing more than a “turnstile tax,” aimed directly at the poor- and working-class families of New Jersey and unfairly singling out those New Jersey residents who have no choice but to take the bus and train to get to where they’re going. A hike of this magnitude – or any sort of fare increase – is the last thing that should be considered during these tough economic times.

The proposed 25 percent fare hike will be devastating to commuters and working families throughout the state. As an example, a single adult rider with a monthly train pass traveling to and from Woodbridge to New York Penn Station will have to pay an additional $684 a year - $57 a month. For many 19th District residents, and indeed many New Jerseyans, that’s more than half a week’s pay that can no longer help pay the rent, groceries, utilities or be saved.

And if you think that a 25 percent “turnstile tax” only affects mass transit riders, you’re wrong. That 25 percent hike means the rider from Woodbridge has less money to put back into the local economy, whether it’s buying clothes, going for a drink or dinner after work, buying a movie ticket, picking up a CD, or other discretionary spending. That’s money that will never make it into the coffers of New Jersey businesses. And when that missing money is multiplied by tens of millions of monthly riders it adds up quick and could result in New Jersey businesses cutting back on inventory, withholding raises, instituting hiring freezes, firing employees or even closing altogether.

It also means that NJ Transit riders will be paying 25 percent more to receive reduced service on every train and bus line in the state. That means longer commutes and more crowding on remaining trains and busses and fewer options if a train or bus breaks down, is delayed or missed.

Additionally, a lot of commuters who take NJ Transit for the convenience may finally decide that it’s cheaper or quicker for them to get to where they’re going by car. That’s going to put more vehicles on our roads, which will lead to more traffic, more congestion, more wear and tear on the roads and more harmful emissions being pumped into the air on a daily basis.

What’s worse, if a large enough portion of NJ Transit’s ridership leaves the rails for their cars, NJ Transit will be forced to increase fares and cut back on service again in the near future, which will only cause the cycle to continue until taking the train or bus is unaffordable and getting anywhere in a car is untenable due to gridlock.

It seems as if the Governor believes that NJ Transit’s subsidy is somehow wasteful. My own observations and the empirical evidence from successful transit agencies across the globe stand at odds with this sentiment. As has been proven time and again in this country and across the world, mass transit systems cannot be self-sustaining and still be affordable and effective. Look at the Bush administration’s disastrous experimentation with making Amtrak self-sustaining: it led to increased ticket prices, a scaling back of services and failures in aging infrastructure that couldn’t be replaced due to cost. And then look at countries like Japan and Germany, where mass transit operations enjoy a significant government subsidy to literally keep the trains running on time and keep fares low. In a corridor state like New Jersey, a fully functioning and affordable mass transit system is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. And it’s a necessity that cannot be paid for on the backs of riders alone.

NJ Transit will be holding a series of public hearings and information sessions in the coming weeks, prior to deciding whether to adopt the proposed 25 percent fare hike and service reductions. It is in the best interests of riders and non-riders alike to attend these hearings and make it known that a “turnstile tax” is not the way to go. Let the NJ Transit board know what a 25 percent fare hike means to you in real dollars – whether you ride the rails or depend on the business of commuters who do. Then let them know that the place they should be looking to make up for the subsidy cuts and budget shortfalls is the Governor’s Office – not your wallets and pocketbooks. If enough of us make our voices heard, they won’t be able to ignore the message. You can attend a hearing in your area at the following time and location:

Thursday, March 25, 2010 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Passaic County Community College - Theater
Ellison Street & Memorial Drive, Paterson, NJ
NJ TRANSIT Headquarters - Board Room
One Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ
Trenton Transit Center
72 South Clinton Avenue, Trenton, NJ
Monmouth County Library - Meeting Rooms 2 & 3
125 Symmes Drive, Manalapan, NJ

Friday, March 26, 2010 from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station
County Road & County Avenue, Secaucus, NJ
Camden City Hall - Council Chambers (2nd Fl.)
520 Market Street, Camden, NJ
Morristown Town Hall - Senior Community Center (3rd Fl.)
200 South Street, Morristown, NJ
Long Branch Middle School - Auditorium
350 Indiana Avenue, Long Branch, NJ
Port Authority Bus Terminal - Times Square Hall (2nd Fl.)
625 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY

Saturday, March 27, 2010 from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Bergen County Freeholders - Public Meeting Room (5th Fl.)
One Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack, NJ
Atlantic City Rail Terminal - Lobby
One Atlantic City Expressway, Atlantic City, NJ

Fares are set to increase May 1st and service reductions will begin June 30th. For more information, please contact my office at: 732-432-8461.

John S. Wisniewski represents the 19th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly. A Democrat, he serves as the chairman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.