Home New Jersey Transit NJ Transit’s looming 9% fare hike only just the beginning

NJ Transit’s looming 9% fare hike only just the beginning

by Benjamin Kabak

When we first heard word of a looming New Jersey Transit fare hike — the first since 2010 but fifth since 2002 — initial reports indicated the raise could be as much as 25 percent. Now that the budget numbers are coming into view, that steep hike seems to be off the table, and fares may go up by only nine percent in the coming months. But the reprieve may be only temporary as a variety of factors are at work that could push NJ Transit fares even higher in coming years.

The Wall Street Journal broke news of the hike last night. The nine percent figure is designed to help close a budget gap of $80 million. Andrew Tangel reports:

NJ Transit is expected to propose a 9% fare increase as the operator of commuter trains, buses and light rail faces a budget shortfall, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The agency is expected to announce the proposed fare increase—its first in five years—along with potential service adjustments as soon as this week, this person said. Any fare increase would be subject to public hearings and an eventual vote by the agency’s board.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much individual fares for NJ Transit’s various systems might rise under the proposal. But the proposed increase is well below the last one, in 2010, when the agency raised fares by 22% on average. NJ Transit faced a $300 million budget gap then. This time there is an $80 million deficit to close…

NJ Transit officials have said they realize the previous increase was difficult for riders to stomach. This time, they have said, the aim is to keep any increase in the single digits as they try to close the gap in the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1. In recent weeks, NJ Transit officials have been looking to trim expenses across the agency, and said they had found about $40 million in savings. But the agency has faced rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs, and it remains in negotiations with unions representing its employees.

But that’s all short term. There are a pair of long-term issues that could affect New Jersey transit fares in the coming years. First, an annual subsidy of nearly $300 million from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority may end after next June, and second, due to a federal mandate that Amtrak run the Northeast Corridor like it a business, rent owed by New Jersey Transit to Amtrak may increase by around $20 million annually. If this worst-case scenario comes due, NJ Transit may have to hike fares by 30 percent to continue to maintain current service levels.

As I noted last month, this constant talk of NJ Transit fare hikes is in stark contrast to the fact that New Jersey’s gas tax hasn’t increased in a generation. For a state that, whether it admits it or not, relies so heavily on its rail network and can’t take more traffic on its clogged roads, this situation will quickly grow untenable. Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?

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Chris C April 15, 2015 - 9:55 am

Ah the old “tell them is is going to be a high figure then they’ll all act relived when we actually say it’s going to be a bit less even though it’s still high” routine

Didn’t Christie do something similar with some tolls a couple of years ago??

Wooderson April 15, 2015 - 10:00 am

Chris Christie for President, everyone!

Eric F April 15, 2015 - 10:46 am

It would have been useful to compare the NJT increases to the other regional systems. You can add on the 9% to the 22%, so 31% since the last increase, which I think was a long time ago. It would be interesting to see how that stacks up.

I think the 22% number by the way is a bit of a gloss,, because there wasn’t a uniform increase across all transit modes. The increase was concentrated on train commuters over bus commuters, so I think that the train ticket increases were much higher than 22%.

Tim April 15, 2015 - 10:58 am

God forbid they raise the gas tax.

Eric F April 15, 2015 - 11:02 am

NJT has to negotiate contracts with twenty (20) unions. God forbid one can run a railroad without having 20 cadres of feather bedded union officials to babysit.

AG April 15, 2015 - 6:12 pm

What you say is true about unions…. But it is equally true that nationally (compared to other first world nations) the gas tax IS too low. That is especially true in NJ where it is worn like some badge of honor.

Nathanael April 16, 2015 - 2:11 am

NJ has a much, much, much, much lower gas tax than any of its neighbors. NJ could raise its gas tax by 8 cents per gallon and still be less than all of its neighbors.

The next lowest is Delaware, which also has a very low gas tax. New Jersey could double its gas tax, and it would still be lower than the rates in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut (and quite close to the Maryland rate).

NJ needs to raise its gas tax, and yesterday. I assume the gas tax is low due to the historical presence of oil companies as major industries and major lobbyists on the “Chemical Coast”.

DC October 28, 2015 - 2:04 pm

I agree that the gasoline tax could and should be raised. But there should be some type of law that would have the money go for transportation projects only. Low income people who depend on public transportation to go to work,to school and to thier second jobs continually get hit with fare hikes. It is time car drivers share the pain. Oh yeah how come only the eastern half of the state pay tolls….

Christopher April 15, 2015 - 11:02 pm

We probably could fix that by increasing collective bargaining coverage. Less individual negotiation, better pay for all workers. The current system of divide and conquer doesn’t really benefit workers, while simultaneously driving up the cost of negotiation. In places in Europe which often have low union coverage, still have high collective bargaining coverage. (Take France, it’s 8% union coverage and 80% collective bargaining.) Other parts of Europe have more union coverage and similar levels of collective bargaining.

Of course I say all this assuming you are pro-worker pay and not just hoping to get the cheapest labor possible. Which is probably a rather big assumption.

lop April 15, 2015 - 1:33 pm


The 22% hike in 2010 was the first since the 9.6% hike in 2007.

JR April 15, 2015 - 5:30 pm

Eric, small comment. You can’t add percentages….they pile on top of one another. A 9%increase on top of a 22% increase is actually closer to a 33% increase than a 31%.

Matt April 15, 2015 - 10:34 am

Ha! “Maintain current service levels.” You must mean the ones where if you’re a Bergen Line commuter and you miss the 7:08pm out of NY Penn, your next option is 8:35pm. Take a look: http://www.njtransit.com/pdf/rail/R0020.pdf (There used to be one in between before the post-recession service cuts.) NJT rail service is already abysmal. How can the nation’s third largest commuter rail service get away with 1h 27m in between late rush hour service? LIRR and MetroNorth have 30m headway well past 7pm, even all the way to far termini like Poughkeepsie.

Bolwerk April 15, 2015 - 11:07 am

Is that a track constraint though?

I had some work in CT a while ago. The situation to an MNRR branch line was similar. I had to be out the door at 6am and be really early to the job or catch the next train and be 30 or so minutes late.

There was a train-bus option too, but that took longer, albeit let me schedule arrival and departure more sanely. So the sane options were train to a cab, carpooling, borrowing cars, etc.. I’d even bike in the summer.

The frustrating part? A slight change in location probably would have saved literally hundreds of dollars a month.

Eric F April 15, 2015 - 11:14 am

I didn’t know that Bergen trains went ti New York. I thought they had to change in Secaucus.

Matt April 15, 2015 - 12:05 pm

You do have to switch at Secaucus, but the printed schedules show the connections. It’s a minor detail in my larger point that it’s disgraceful that a major commuter rail system would accept almost a 90min headway at the end of rush hour. Tons of people work until or beyond 7pm, and it’s a joke that they’d have to wait until 8:35pm to catch a train home.

They would have had direct trains to NY if Christie didn’t cancel the ARC tunnel. Grr.

Eric F April 15, 2015 - 12:35 pm

I agree that the long headways are a killer. It begets a vicious cycle where the long headways reduce ridership, which then begets cancelled trains and longer headways. The ability to socialize to 7:30, without causing one to get home at 10pm, would be nice as well as more humane.

I agree we need ARC or Gatweway or whatever, but I’m not sure I see a connection to this particular problem. The Bergen trains terminate in Hoboken, which has capacity to allow for shorter headways. So, your Bergen situation would not be helped or hurt by ARC. Of course, ARC had a provision for direct Manhattan access for Bergen trains, so that would be a huge change. But your current routing is NYP-SEC, which has plenty of frequency, and HOB-Bergen, which is not capacity constrained. Basically, you’re a service cut victim, not an ARC cancellation victim.

Llqbtt April 16, 2015 - 1:30 pm

There used to be 1 express train in the morning, last stop before Sec. was Ramsey, and it was SRO.

eo April 15, 2015 - 2:24 pm

I hear you my friend … Let’s keep fingers crossed that there are no service cuts, because the service cuts could be the real killer. As commuters we have no choice (unless you want to be stuck in traffic), but to take the train even if the hike is 20%, but if they cut the service then their problems will grow. That is because the more service they cut the more current commuters will find it inconvenient due to lack of enough frequency and the more of them are going to move to other modes, mostly driving which of course will cut on the NJTransit’s revenue.

For me the reality is that if they cut another couple of evening trains, I will need to find another way to commute to the city …

Rob April 16, 2015 - 10:11 am

Me too. Westchester real estate has a competitive advantage over New Jersey since the frequency on MetroNorth is so good. Even the weekend trains are showing decent ridership. The one problem is that it is very expensive, so those on a budget ride the buses to the subway termini and take advantage of the free transfer.

Eric F April 15, 2015 - 10:34 am

“Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?” Meaning, when do we finally get a handle on the “rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs” that are making nationalized transit systems unaffordable? My guess is never.

RJ April 22, 2015 - 8:56 pm

We are at the breaking point. People are voting, with their feet. New York has lost seats in Congress and has been passed by FL for third largest state. NJ lost a seat in Congress as well as 55,000 people last year, most of them productive, tax-paying citizens. They were replaced by 55,000 people, many of whom are illegal aliens, who have come to generous NJ for the benefits which are free to them – educating their children, free healthcare, food stamps, subsidized housing,earned income credit. Everything free in America – unless you are a productive member of society….

AG April 22, 2015 - 9:01 pm

Ummm – Florida has a bigger problem with those issues than NY or NJ… Go travel throughout the state of Florida.. There are palm trees – but plenty of decay underneath as well.

Larry Littlefield April 15, 2015 - 10:36 am

“But the agency has faced rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs, and it remains in negotiations with unions representing its employees.”

Let me guess. Those rising costs are due to hiring more workers to improve service, and paying them more in cash wages, particularly early in their careers, to attract capable and motivated employees.

No? It’s to pay for the retirement benefits of those who have already cashed I and moved to Florida, benefits that were retroactively enriched and not funded during the Generation Greed era?

Drop the nonsense. NJT costs are NOT increasing. They are probably decreasing. It’s just that NJ (and other places) is paying NOW for what was done THEN. If you didn’t have Generation Greed still in charge and determined to cover up this essential truth, fares would be going down. And a surcharge would be added on top of them, the “Generation Greed” surcharge, to show where the money really goes.

As noted, look at the line chart for the NJ tax burden in this post:


Taxes (and toll increases and fare increases) were not reduced. They were deferred, and inflated by interest costs.

Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. April 15, 2015 - 11:38 am

I am a 23 years old and I am a member of four non-profit, community organizations that can help out their respective communities: 1) El Puente; 2) Straphangers Campaign; 3) Riders Alliance; 4) Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. Most of these organizations are involved in public transportation in some way. My important questions are: How can you define “Generation Greed?” Do you coined that term? Why or why not? How does they affect my generation, which is the Y Generation? Thank you so much.

P.S. I want to know because I am doing independent research on the MTA since my freshman year at high school.

Larry Littlefield April 15, 2015 - 12:12 pm

Yes, I believe I coined the term, which doesn’t make me popular among those aware of it.

It refers to the best off generations in U.S. history, those born from 1930 to 1957 or so. Those coming after have been progressively poorer at each phase of their lives


a situation covered up first by having more family members work, then by lost retirement benefits (which should have reduced past consumer spending as people saved more to make up for it, but did not), and then by soaring debts.


Some of this was just circumstances. But since taking control of our public and private organizations, Generation Greed has acted to make itself better off and those following worse off over and over. Which will really hit younger generations when they reach old age themselves and face poverty and deprivation. Just look at the bankruptcy of the MTA and New Jersey Transit. It is part of a general trend.


What has happened in public and private institutions mirrors what has even happened in family life over the past 50 years.


“How does they affect my generation, which is the Y Generation?”

You’ll be worse off, though hopefully not too much worse off, and rebuild from there.

But at some point this has to stop. Generation Greed was followed by my generation, the back end of the baby boom and Gen X. Generation Apathy. “We’re screwed anyway, so let’s just worry about ourselves.” They’re going to find out how well that works when we get medical marijuana and legal assisted suicide instead of Social Security and Medicare.

For my part, I think I did my share by at least standing up and objecting a decade ago.


adirondacker12800 April 15, 2015 - 1:30 pm

Some of this was just circumstances.

Nope, it was deliberate actions by Republicans to suck the blood out of the middle class.

Nathanael April 16, 2015 - 2:14 am

Yep. Starting in 1980 it was a clear and deliberate attempt, by the Republican Party. to destroy the middle classes. The attempt probably started earlier but it became obvious in 1980.

Larry Littlefield April 16, 2015 - 9:54 am

A vast right wing conspiracy? Tricking people into destroying their own future? You are too political, and making excuses for what Democrats have also done in places they control, with different beneficiaries.

That doesn’t square with the decisions made by millions of people in their own lives. At the expense of their own future, or their own children.

The politicians and CEOs didn’t trick people. These “men of the people” merely took advantage of the zeitgeist to get ahead rather than fighting it. And for them it worked, at least for a while.

In the end it’s about Generation Greed.

Bolwerk April 17, 2015 - 10:05 am

It’s more like a right-wing zeitgeist, with Democrats usually cowed into going places Republikans won’t go on their own. It wasn’t Bush who signed welfare “reform”; it was Clinton. Locally, the Democrats want to throw money at the police now; Bloomberg and maybe even authoritarian Giuliani were willing to shave the police budget.

al April 21, 2015 - 9:44 am

It is bipartisan pandering to groups with money and organization. Daley, Andrew Cuomo, Schwarzenegger, Pataki, even Bloomberg. They range from horrible management on projects, labor productivity/costs, inside deals for friends, tax loopholes, etc.

Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. April 15, 2015 - 5:42 pm

Thank you so much with your expertise, Larry. I am looking forward in your blog. ????

JJJJ April 15, 2015 - 11:55 am

What I find interesting about NJ is how vulnerable the state is because of how important Manhattan is to the state economy.

There are two tracks into New York. If something goes terribly wrong, be it a natural disaster or terrorist attack that closes the tunnel (or the bridge before it), that is tens of billions of dollars (maybe more) in economic chaos.

Think about it, one little oopsie and it’s game over for Chris Christie’s New Jersey.

Also, does anybody know why Septa charges $6.50 to get as far as you want….unless you’re going into NJ where it’s $9.00? What a fucking rip off.

Matt April 15, 2015 - 12:07 pm

At least Septa’s onboard ticket surcharge is only $1 instead of $5 on NJT and $6 and change on LIRR.

JJJJ April 15, 2015 - 12:24 pm

Well you have to consider that SEPTA doesnt have ticket machines. Is there another system in the country that does not vend train tickets from a machine? That technology became available in the 70s if not earlier.

Stewart Clamen April 15, 2015 - 2:23 pm

SEPTA used to have ticket vending machines, but then the US Treasury introduced new bills and SEPTA withdrew the machines from service, rather than convert them.

JJJJ April 15, 2015 - 4:35 pm

Please be a joke

Stewart Clamen April 16, 2015 - 1:36 pm

I don’t have that good an imagination


JAzumah April 15, 2015 - 12:37 pm

The NJT service area is larger and the service is somewhat more robust. SEPTA’s trains are typically shorter and slower.

JJJJ April 15, 2015 - 4:39 pm

I mean that when you’re on your SEPTA train, and you ride an extra 2 minutes across the river, you’re hit with a $3-$5 extra charge thanks to a magic invisible border.


Tsuyoshi April 15, 2015 - 2:49 pm

SEPTA is perfectly willing to subsidize service in Pennsylvania, where its funding actually comes from, but not to New Jersey. The service to New Jersey is funded by NJT, and they don’t want to subsidize it as much as SEPTA does. Notice that Delaware doesn’t have fares as high as New Jersey does – that’s because DART pays more than NJT.

BTW, NJT buses that go to/from Philadelphia have an even sillier surcharge. The differential, based on whether you start in Philadelphia or e.g. Camden, increases as you go farther. So if you’re going to Cape May from Philadelphia, you can save more than $10 by just taking a train/bus to Camden first, and then transferring to the bus to Cape May (which just arrived from Philadelphia anyway).

Ideally, both MTA and SEPTA would cover New Jersey too, and NJT (and PATH, and PATCO) wouldn’t even exist. It’s hard to imagine it ever happening, though.

JJJJ April 15, 2015 - 4:41 pm

Well at least on my last trip, 50 people got on at Trenton, and then 2 got on in the little shack that comes next inside PA. They’re penalizing riders for actually using their train. Without Trenton, the SEPTA NEC line would have 8 people on it and lose a whole lot more money.

I assume the MTA doesnt subsidize NJTransit for taking their trains into NYC right? Why should NJ Transit subsidize SEPTA for serving a station that mostly benefits SEPTA?

Tsuyoshi April 15, 2015 - 2:53 pm

BTW, if you really want to get to Trenton cheaply, take PATCO to Camden, then take the River Line.

APH April 15, 2015 - 3:27 pm

What’s the River Line like? I’ve never used it. The last I remember reading about it is that it loses lots of money, has low ridership, and was basically just a waste of money to please Trenton/Camden politicians. What’s the truth?

adirondacker12800 April 15, 2015 - 3:38 pm

It loses lots of money because there’s a flat fare of “one bus zone” for the whole system. They went for cheap, it’s a single track in most places. It runs at capacity during rush hour. The capacity is low because of the single track.

JJJ April 15, 2015 - 4:42 pm

Its probably the longest distance $1.50 buys you in this country. The trains are comfortable and fast, but have an extraordinary amount of wasted space. Like 1/3 of each train car cannot be sued by passengers, if not more.

Stewart Clamen April 16, 2015 - 1:47 pm

They have bike hooks on board! A fun activity is to cycle to a faraway station and take the RiverLine back.

tacony April 15, 2015 - 3:46 pm

NJ Association of Rail Passengers did a study showing that NJ Transit fares are already the highest in the country: http://www.nj.com/traffic/inde....._says.html

NJ Transit commuters who travel 48 miles between New York and Princeton Junction, pay $414 for a monthly pass, higher than the $377 monthly fare that a Long Island Rail Road rider pays to travel 49 miles between New York and Smithtown. Metro North commuters would pay $407 a month for a 52-mile trip between New York and Brewster, Conn., the study found

And they want to make this even more expensive? In the state with the lowest gas tax other than Alaska!

It’s also interesting to note that PA now has the highest gas taxes in the country. NJ could raise its tax quite a bit and still be below NY and PA.

JJJ April 15, 2015 - 4:44 pm

And it’s an extra $5 each way (or so)if you want to ride an extra 2 minutes into Princeton proper, the most outrageous fare in the country, this side of the PATH monorails

Nathanael April 16, 2015 - 2:17 am

New Jersey could TRIPLE its gas tax, and it would be still be less than the gas tax in Pennsylvania, New York, AND Connecticut.

Chris April 20, 2015 - 1:35 am

To answer your question:

(For a state that, whether it admits it or not, relies so heavily on its rail network and can’t take more traffic on its clogged roads, this situation will quickly grow untenable. Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?)

Chris Christie might say…. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

I say – I’ll bet we see that day in the next 15 years.


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