Report from the Chair: Jan./Feb. 2023

A new year starts this month: my 3rd as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson, and NJ Transit Rail’s 41st. The Coalition has a new Web site, the forum is back in operation, and we are looking forward to being the advocate host of the Rail Users’ Network’s in-person conference in the spring. Our resolution supporting the expansion of weekend service on the Montclair-Boonton line caught the attention of Board Member James Adams, who asked Kevin Corbett to look into the possibilities and interest of local communities. We continue to look for more transparency from NJ Transit, something for which we have advocated for years, if not decades.

The lack of a so-called Customer Advocate has become almost absurd; every meeting, there are at least a few members of the public asking about it, yet no progress—possibly because they have written a job description impossible to fill. How about just expanding telephone support hours? 6 a.m. to midnight would be great; we’d settle for a 10 p.m. closing, instead of the current 5 p.m.—actually earlier, as I have had the switchboard shut off at 4:50 when I was holding. Wouldn’t you expect that operators would answer the questions of those on hold before leaving? We all like to leave our office on time, but providing the best customer service means giving just a little extra. However, that should only rarely be a consideration: one would expect that shift schedules would allow workers to answer all waiting calls and still clock out on time.

Report from the Chair, Nov./Dec. 2021

At the October NJ Transit board meeting, I commented on the difficulty of finding information on agenda items in order to make meaningful comments. In previous administrations, the final written agenda included a lot more detail on action items.

As I looked over the packed agenda, there were items on which I had questions. I called our former technical director, current member Joe Clift, to get some answers. He also had questions, so together we hit the website. We looked for details on such items as the 8-electric-bus purchase for the Camden pilot project, and realized that we had seen some of these before—NJ Transit’s Capital Plan would have details. We found the documents: many pages, with no index or page numbers, but background material on action items to help us evaluate the projects.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair, Nov./Dec. 2021

NJT Secrecy Under Fire

NJ Transit’s methods for settling personal-injury lawsuits and other legal claims against it, as well as managing its insurance program, have come under fire.  According to reporting by Karen Rouse of The Record and reported in the Star-Ledger (Sept. 12), the railroad has not voted in public on such issues in years.  The votes apparently come behind closed doors, despite NJT’s stated goal of transparent operations.  Millions of dollars in expenditures are involved.

The secret votes do not appear in publicly posted minutes, but The Record obtained them through a public-records request.  Even these records obtained were heavily redacted; the amounts involved were often blacked out.  Previously, NJT came under fire for keeping its rail hurricane plan from the public, initially releasing only a blacked-out document.  The actual document was released only after The Record filed a lawsuit to obtain it.  Commenting on the reports of excessive secrecy, an NJT spokesperson said that the agency had recently updated procedures for closed-door sessions, but declined to be specific.

Port Authority Documents Not Easily Accessible

It’s always been problematic for those interested in how public agencies work to get access to internal documents.  Laws such as the federal Freedom of Information Act and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act are one way by which the public can find out what’s actually going on in often-opaque public agencies and authorities.  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seems to be more opaque than most; as a bistate agency, it can make the best (or worst?) of the laws of both states.  Recently, a man arrested by Port Authority police at the PATH station in Hoboken tried to access Port Authority documents, first through the federal law, and then the New Jersey law.  The Port Authority responded that some of the documents requested were exempt under the federal law, and also demanded nearly $4,000 for copying costs.  He then tried under the state law, but a New Jersey appeals court ruled that the state Open Records Act doesn’t apply to the Port Authority—because it’s a bistate agency and thus can’t be subject to control of any one state.  (Oct. 4; Associated Press via the Wall Street Journal and