Report From The Chair, March/April 2014

The past four years were controversial and often difficult under Jim Weinstein’s leadership at NJT. We praised him, Commissioner Simpson and Governor Chris Christie for terminating the dead-end tunnel and deep-cavern terminal that the ARC (“Access to the Region’s Core”) Project had become by 2010. We criticized Weinstein for starting his tenure at NJT by implementing the agency’s largest fare increase ever, including the elimination of any discount for customers who ride trains at times other than peak-commuting hours — a 47% fare increase. We also criticized him for leaving nearly 400 locomotives and cars in low-lying yards in the Meadowlands and at Hoboken to flood during Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. We are also aware of NJT’s poor performance in getting fans to and from the stadium for the Super Bowl game in February. It was Weinstein’s last chance to leave NJT on a positive note, and we consider it unfortunate that the event went so badly for him, for NJT and for the fans who were stuck at the stadium for hours after the game.

Everyone is looking forward to better days for NJT under Ronnie Hakim. Morale among riders and employees at NJT is as low as this writer has observed in nearly 30 years on the transit scene. With a new leader comes new opportunity, and we hope that Executive Director Hakim will bring a new culture to NJT; one that is more concerned with moving people than merely with moving trains and buses. We call for more integration among the rail, bus and light rail sides of NJT; in terms of management, scheduled connectivity and fare integration. The bus and rail sides of our transit have been far too separate for far too long. We specifically call for restoration of discounted “off-peak” rail fares to encourage riders to take the train when there is plenty of room for them. Commissioner Simpson has called for “off-peak” fares, too, and we offer our enthusiastic support.

Beyond that, we also call for a new fare structure that renders it less expensive for riders to take the train to Hoboken and PATH to Manhattan, than to go directly to Penn Station. That would divert some riders away from Penn Station, particularly at peak-commuting times.

We also call for the construction of a third tunnel into Penn Station, as quickly as possible. That step would enable NJT to get more riders into and out of New York more efficiently, and to have two tracks available at all times, including when Amtrak closes one of them on weekends for track work. We look forward to working with Executive Director Hakim to improve our transit, and bring it to the level that its riders deserve.