Despite the highest fare increases in the history of New Jersey Transit, implemented along with service cuts in May, LTK Engineering of Ambler, Penn. has been awarded a contract that would pay between $92,000 and $96,000 to inspect each of 100 new multi-level railcars that NJT is buying. There are already 329 similar cars on the property, and rider advocates have questioned the need to pay such high fees, especially when they come amid service cuts. The Lackawanna Coalition believes that NJT could hire in-house engineers to inspect the cars and restore the off-peak rail fare discount that was eliminated in May, thereby passing the savings back to the riders.
Riders Get Fare Hikes, Consultants Get Big Bucks
From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter
Regular riders on the Morris & Essex Lines are all too aware of the fare increases, along with service reductions, that New Jersey Transit implemented this past spring. Yet this belt-tightening doesn’t go across the board; the most dramatic illustration is NJT’s insistence on building a new “deep cavern” terminal in Midtown Manhattan, unconnected to New York Penn Station, when a connection from the existing Moynihan/
Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal would be far less expensive and serve riders far better. But spending as though boom times are still here shows up in smaller ways too, such as consulting fees.
As a case in point, NJT recently ordered 100 new multi-level cars, virtually identical to those already in service across the system. The cost per car is $2.93 million. In addition, the agency is planning to pay LTK Engineering Services of Ambler, PA of total of $96,761.10 per car to inspect each new car.
Rail advocates are wondering how such a consulting expenditure is justified when the equipment is already a known quantity. At the NJT Board’s July 14 meeting, advocate Jack May, who was instrumental in getting weekend service to Montclair restored last fall, asked NJT Executive Director James Weinstein if he planned to hire a high-priced consultant each time he bought a new automobile. NJT management defended the LTK contract but did not explain why it was necessary.
At that same meeting, Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan pointed out that the LTK contract—worth at least $9.2 million and possibly as much as $9.7 million—cost more than the expected revenue from charging riders higher fares. NJT could have kept peak-hour fare hikes in check and sent engineers who were already on the payroll to inspect the new multi-level cars.
The agency could have also cut back slightly on another large equipment order instead of passing the costs on to riders. NJT’s board in July also voted to order 10 more dual-mode locomotives, in addition to the 126 it already has on order, at a cost of nearly $8 million per unit. Had that order of 10 locomotives been reduced to 9, the steep off-peak fare increases could have been avoided.
“It is not a good management practice for transit providers, or any other business in the public or private sector, to waste money,” Alan says. “It is especially unfair to force transit riders to pay out of pocket for managerial extravagance.”