By Christie Duffy
The new executive director of New Jersey Transit is on a listening tour in her first days on the job.
“She asked about the service, you know and if the buses were on time. I said yeah, they were,” said NJ Transit rider Thomas Troutman.
“Very good. They’re great. And they’re very polite,” said Pauline Jones.
“They need to have some type of security on their buses because it’s not safe. You see drug use on their buses,” said rider Timara Patterson.
Riders gave mostly positive feedback Tuesday, with some complaints about safety and customer service.
Ronnie Hakim began in the top job at the transit agency earlier this month. She previously worked as the senior vice president for New York’s MTA, and she was executive director of New Jersey’s Turnpike Authority.
As the new director, Hakim will oversee more than 11,000 NJ Transit employees. And she is full of energy about reinvigorating the reported low morale at the agency. Union workers for NJ Transit haven’t had a new contract in years and non-union workers are upset about having their free transit passes taken away. But Hakim notes how, on average, employees at NJ Transit have been there for more than 20 years.
Hakim’s predecessor, Jim Weinstein, resigned last month after 30,000 riders were backlogged in the Meadowlands when trying to exit the Super Bowl. NJ Transit just recently came to an agreement with the NFL and the American Dream mall developers to expand service to the Meadowlands to a maximum of 18,000 riders per hour. Hakim says this expansion will come at no additional cost to the agency.
“We’ve already made the necessary investments for that,” Hakim said.
What has cost the agency is the $100 million in Sandy damages incurred after trains were left in low-lying areas. Questions posed to the new director about Sandy and the Super Bowl were deflected or flat out denied a response Tuesday.
When asked if she’s learned any more about what happened at the Super Bowl, Hakim said, “We’re here right now to talk about customer service and we’re here to talk about Camden. This is not about North Jersey right now. This is about South Jersey.”
Hakim says her focus is on the future. Her first order of business is improving communication with riders.
“We have so much good information about our service, our plans. How do we get that information into the hands of our customers?” Hakim asked.
Hakim also emphasized the importance of continuing capital investments in NJ Transit’s aging infrastructure, saying the service will only be as good as the rails you ride it on.