Report from the Chair

Budget season is in full swing in Trenton, and as April turned to May Legislative Director Vito Havrilla presented remarks at a Senate hearing. These have been posted to our website and forum. Kevin Corbett appeared at a later hearing and admitted that fare increases are on the table despite the governor’s denial. The last increase was in 2015. Since then, inflation has continued and ridership is still only 75% of 2019 prepandemic levels, so it is hard to argue against any increase—and yet we know that many transit-dependent people have limited income and would be hit especially hard. We’d like to see a means-tested discount if there is to be any increase. It has become routine for advocates to call for dedicated state funding—which almost all agencies of similar size have—yet that has yet to materialize.

NJ Transit is currently getting by on federal funding, hiding the real problem—and by fiscal year 2026, the agency will face a deficit approaching $1 billion. It is time for the state legislature to get serious about finding money to keep the trains and buses running. (We’d argue that such projects as the NJTRANSITgrid should be put on hold, with energy generation left to the professionals rather than the transit agency creating “NJ Transit Power and Light”—especially with an expensive new fracked-gas project in an environmental justice community.)

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NJ Transit recently announced plans to move its headquarters out of the building that it now owns outright, moving a short distance away to the Gateway complex, owned by a Murphy/Democratic Party donor, where the agency will be leasing space. Along with Asm. Brian Rumpf and some others, we question that decision. The justification given is that the current building needs $100 million in renovations to be suitable—which is surprising, as the agency has been in its current location for some time, apparently without complaint. In fact, just before the pandemic, the board room itself was redone with an elaborate dais, large screens for displaying exhibits and streamed video, etc.—where were the concerns about the building then? This hardly seems the time to be moving to a high-end rental facility, especially with the bad optics (at least) of renting from a politically connected owner.

In the agenda for the May board meeting, the schedule for board meetings for fiscal year 2024 were announced: as has become standard, 5 morning and 5 evening meetings. After much outcry from members of the public, Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti promised that they would not start meetings with executive sessions, but hold them before the announced starting time or after the public meeting. That has almost always held true, and we recognize the common courtesy; morning meetings now start at 10 A.M. and evening meetings continue to start at 6 P.M. As always, we bring our members’ issues to the board meetings—or as much as I can fit into 3 quick-talking minutes! Since resuming in-person meetings, the phone option for the public to call in has been retained, which is helpful for many individuals.

Last month at the board meeting, the board approved forwarding new regulations for SCDRTAC—congratulations to my fellow SCDRTAC members and to David Peter Alan as chairperson and chief negotiator for protecting that committee’s traditional purview (see Dave’s commentary elsewhere in this issue).

We were pleased to see on the May agenda the continuation of Sunday service on a number of bus lines—apparently NJT’s dismal effort at publicizing March hearings for the project, resulting in an embarrassingly small participation, did not dissuade them from doing the right thing for riders. We’d gladly help share the notice next time, if only we see it!

We were looking forward to our role as advocate cohost of the Rail Users’ Network (RUN; conference on Friday, April 28th, in person at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; unfortunately, it went online instead, as you will read in Dave Alan’s report. We were able to hold the advertised Transit Tour the next day, in the rain, and rode rail and light rail in Essex, Hudson, and Bergen counties, and toured N.Y. Penn Station with member Joe Clift. Next time, in better weather, we will continue to Grand Central!

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