Home New Jersey Transit NJ Transit set to hike fares, slash services

NJ Transit set to hike fares, slash services

by Benjamin Kabak

As states struggle through a period of high deficits, rail subsidies are a taking a hit at a time when we as a country should be investing in mass transit. We know how poorly the MTA is faring right now, and today, we hear word that another key player in the New York region’s network of transportation service is in dire need of funds. To close a $300 million budget gap, New Jersey Transit will be rising its fares and cutting services across the state.

According to published reports, the commuter rail-and-bus service will make an announcement later today of hikes and cuts across the state. Fares will be increased by an average of 25-30 percent. Bus wait times will be increased by approximately five to ten minutes, and a few rush hour trains will be slashed from the schedule. The agency hopes to restore these services when the state economy improves, but right now, New Jersey is $2.2 billion in the red. Earlier this week, the agency announced plans to fire 200 workers and roll back executive compensation and employee benefits packages.

“These are extremely painful steps, but unavoidable ones. We must close our serious budget shortfall, and we at NJ Transit must do our part by making this the leanest, most efficient agency possible, without compromising safety,” Executive Director James Weinstein said. “Unfortunately, fare and service changes will have to be a part of NJ Transit’s overall response to this financial crisis.” These cuts are, he noted, the deepest one-year cuts in the 31-year history of the organization.

As with so many transit agencies around the country, New Jersey Transit’s financial success is tied in closely with government support and fare policies. The agency officials say that 42 percent of their revenue comes from fares, and when state support drops away, as it has recently, those in charge have no option other than fare hikes and service cuts.

Where New Jersey fails though is in its equation of taxes and fees that support transit at the expense of driving. As Tom Davis explored at NJ.com, the state’s gas taxes are fourth lowest in the nation and have not increased “in two decades.” Considering that New Jersey Transit’s daily weekday ridership is at an all-time high and that the various services transport nearly 900,000 people per weekday, the state’s policy decisions seem out of whack to me.

Meanwhile, New Jersey residents who commute into the city are in for a double whammy. These New Jersey Transit hikes will go into effect in May, and the MTA will be implementing its cuts (and potentially considering a fare hike) throughout the summer. We should be investing in transit right now and expanding service offerings. Instead, the transit capital of the country is slashing service and raising fares. No one will benefit.

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SEAN March 5, 2010 - 12:34 pm

Could tstarving the systems be the goal? I mean how else do you get more people to drive & spend nore to park their cars.

Benjamin Kabak March 5, 2010 - 12:37 pm

That would be a terrible social, environmental and economic policy all rolled up into one. Even if the parking lobby would benefit, the overall economic impact due to increased congestion would negate those gains.

SEAN March 5, 2010 - 2:49 pm

I had to put the question out there, even if it sounds rediculous. You cant put anything past polititions though, because you don’t know who owns them & what policies they want past.

Russell Warshay March 5, 2010 - 12:55 pm

My guess is that this is not a pro-car/anti-rail move. You can only send so many cars from New Jersey to NYC by the existing Hudson River crossings. More cars will just makes commute times longer. Longer commute times are not good for residential property values.

I just can’t imagine that New Jersey is willing to make this fare hike/ service cut because of an anti-rail agenda, while its about to build the multi-billion dollar ARC. Granted, there is a new governor there, but anything other than a budgetary motivation strikes me as way too schizophrenic.

SEAN March 5, 2010 - 2:56 pm

True, but look at communities like Paramus, East Brunswick, Wayne, Woodbridge & others that have little or no inferstructure for walking. It was done by design for total car dependence.

Eric F. March 5, 2010 - 2:10 pm

Or you can view it as making tough decisions to enable the continuation of a strong system. I don not understand how you can characterize a generalized fare subsidy as an “investment”. If NJ is ‘investing’ in the system, it would do so through capital projects, which NJ has and is undertaking in spades. NY may gush over a project here or there, but NJ has constrcuted two entire light rail lines out of whole cloth in the past decade, both of which are being expanded right now, as we speak. NJ is building its own ARC tunnel and working with the feds on the PORTAL Bridge project. This ain’t bad for a state with fewer people than live in NYC alone.

The NJ fare increases are directed to train riders who are among the wealthiest commuters in the state and are less focused on poorer bus riders — exactly the right tack to take.

Despite your car hostility, cars still account for an overwhelming share of trips in NJ. The state has (and is) underinvesting in road expansions which are needed just as much as rail and bus projects. There is a mass subsidy by drivers of gas tax and toll revenue to transit projects which move a minority of residents for a small slice of trips, and which don’t move an ounce of freight. That is the true underinvestment problem in NJ and in NY as well. It may be cool to ride in a brand new 4 train, but it’s chilling to have drive over the Outerbridge Crossing or navigate Canal on the way to the Holland Tunnel.

Alon Levy March 5, 2010 - 4:26 pm

The biggest capacity constraint is for travel between New Jersey and Manhattan, and there public transportation has the majority of travel. Roads are favored for suburb-to-suburb travel, which is not so congested. Within the Manhattan-bound market, roads are also favored in the GWB catchment area, which is again not at capacity; transit is favored in the rest of the state, whose transportation options are at capacity.

NJT train commuters aren’t wealthy – I believe they’re poorer than drivers on average.

There’s a mass subsidy from everyone to drivers in terms of about half of road maintenance, military spending, and environmental cleanups, but sure, let’s ignore the nationwide trends in road funding.

Al D March 5, 2010 - 2:55 pm

The Turnpike and Parkway will be expanded and NJ Transit is to be contracted. Well, that pretty much says it all.

Eric F. March 5, 2010 - 3:50 pm

Turnpike and Parkway tolls were raised to provide billions for the ARC Tunnel. That says it all.

SEAN March 5, 2010 - 4:17 pm

It is hard to wash one hand with the other if both hands are dirty.

Newarkista March 5, 2010 - 8:49 pm

The Northeast Corridor service reductions look reasonable given the context. On fares, however, there is a fare hike PLUS elimination of off-peak discounts (off-peak = anything other than to NYC 6-9 am and from NYC 4-7 pm). Thus, off-peak fares for most routes average an almost 50% fare hike (e.g. Hamilton to Penn Station off-peak goes from $20.50 to $30.00). Currently, driving from Trenton, Princeton, New Brunswick, or anywhere near the southern end of the northeast corridor route to NYC versus taking the train is approximately cost-neutral, so the convenience of the train easily wins. After the fare hike, it is substantially cheaper to drive into NYC instead of taking the train. The fare hike seems likely to substantially increase the number of people driving and substantially reduce the number of people taking the train.

Parking costs have increased at Hamilton (run by NJT) and other stations, too, further increasing incentives to drive instead of take mass transit.

Fare chart: http://www.njtransit.com/pdf/b.....ewYork.pdf

Ray March 5, 2010 - 11:06 pm

Mercer County voters went for Corzine by over 15%. Seems to me Mercers NJ Transit commuters may have been prescient when casting ballots.

Alon Levy March 6, 2010 - 1:47 am

The causality probably runs the other way.

Abba March 7, 2010 - 2:13 am

According to what I’m reading off peak and peak will be the same fares.Am I right?

Stewart Clamen March 8, 2010 - 3:55 pm

Raising the piddling gasoline tax remains beyond the pale here in NJ. It’s a mystery to me, and a frustrating one at that.


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