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.