NJ Transit bus and rail riders typically vent their commuting woes on social media, but last night they had the opportunity to do it in front of the state Senate’s NJ Transit Committee during a hearing at the Hoboken Terminal.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) recently organized the committee, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, to investigate why train cancellations and bus delays are happening more regularly at the country’s third largest mass transportation system.
Just before the hearing kicked off around 5 p.m., we interviewed the senate president about the goals of the committee.
He has said publicly that his committee is willing to pursue subpoenas of transit executives in order to gather the information the committee needs to come up with solutions.
“The goal here is one, we have to identify a reliable source of funding for NJ Transit, not just today, but for the future. Because we require five-year budgeting for the agency, and where we are now the next four years they’re in a deficit,” said Sweeney.
Multiple commuters then had the chance to tell the committee about their traveling travails and possible improvements.
A bus rider, LaToya of Elizabeth, who didn’t provide her last name, rides the bus route numbers 48, 62 and 115 to get to work and run errands.
She told the committee it would benefit her if there were more buses on her route and extended operational hours, not just for her work commute because she works non-traditional work hours, but also for her son’s doctor appointment, who has special needs.
“Currently, it costs me $2.55 to get my son to the doctor, but at times the buses aren’t on time, so therefore I have to use Lyft or Uber, which will be $20 out of my pocket to get my son to the doctor on time, or I else I have to pay for cancellation fees,” she said.
Another commuter, Roger Heitman, lives in the Jersey City Heights and is a board member of the non-profit Riverview Neighborhood Association.
Last summer, he a saw a lot of social media posts by residents who were complaining about bus service on the 119 and 87 bus routes.
He and his non-profit colleagues then collected about 800 petition signatures that were presented to Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), who in turn secured a meeting with NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett and bus managers last fall.
Heitman noted that since the meeting it’s been a mixed bag.
“We’ve had mixed results. We have gotten a few extra trips on the 119 bus that goes into Manhattan and there’s been some improvement with the transportation issues coming from the Heights into Hoboken regarding traffic signals, but by and large we don’t see a whole lot of improvement,” said Heitman.
He added that every time that he and his colleagues have a meeting with NJ Transit officials, they are told that there are a lack of bus drivers, lack of buses and lack of space at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey bus terminal.
“I know they have purchased more buses, but it still seems to be an insurmountable problem at this point.”
New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers President Len Resto, a group that advocates for improved and expanded rail and bus service, was delayed in getting to the hearing from Chatham because of a train cancellation.
He spoke at length about the problems plaguing the agency, completing his testimony by recommending a series of changes, including a reconstitution of the NJ Transit board to include more than three board members.
That statement elicited a response from Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who noted that she has said publicly and to the governor’s office that the Senate Select Committee on NJ Transit has not been in agreement with the first group of nominees to the board.
“Some of them did not have the requisite backgrounds, so we are in negotiations with the administration to put forth names of people who have a background such as advocates like your organization, train riders, bus riders themselves …”
“I’d be happy to be considered,” Resto said playfully.
“I’m not offering the position right now,” Weinberg responded in a similar fashion.
She agreed with Resto that the board should include more members so more voices of the public can be heard.
During a media scrum after the hearing ended, we followed up to ask Sweeney what type of reliable funding source could be identified, given that across the river New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be enacting congestion pricing for all autos and trucks entering the business district south of 96th Street to shore up the agency’s capital plan.
He responded that the committee is still on a fact-finding mission, given that today’s hearing was the first of several whereby the committee will be interviewing and speaking with commuters and transportation experts, and then working with the legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to make the necessary changes.
“We’re open to ideas, we’re going to be listening to people and we’re going to try and figure it out. We don’t have anything today, this was the first hearing. If I had the solutions to all these questions, day one, what’s the sense of doing the hearings. We would just go ahead and fix things. But this is not going to be a long-dragged out process, we want to move quickly,” said Sweeney.
Despite a Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget allocation of $1.422 billion, Sweeney noted that the transit agency is facing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding gaps starting in FY 2021.
According to NJ Advance Media, the funding gap will be $138 million in FY 2021, followed by $220 million in FY 2022, $304 million in FY 2023 and $392 million by FY 2014.
We streamed the entire public hearing to our Facebook Page and can be viewed below:
The state Senate's NJ Transit committee, which includes Senate Pres. Sweeney and Senator Weinberg, conducting a hearing at the Hoboken Terminal.
Posted by Hudson County View on Wednesday, November 13, 2019