By David Cruz
Back in 2010 when NJ Transit instituted a record 25 percent fare increase coupled with service cuts, the agency heard it from commuters who said never again. Well, never again appears to be “now” even as elected officials and community activists gathered to try and stop a new fare hike.
“We’ve never organized before like this and we’re gonna be aggressive. The plan is to go out to the actual riders and make sure that the riders are aware of it. The way it’s been done in the past is that the riders just ultimately get hit in the wallet and they don’t know prior,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
Fulop says he won’t assume the fare increases are coming — in that he is in the minority — but he says this is more about a long-term solution to what commuters see as regularly-scheduled fare hikes and service cuts. The mayor says a statewide coalition has been organized to get commuters mobilized.
“Many of these people stood with us in December to push back against some of the Port Authority cuts, that were significant proposed to the PATH system, and the Port Authority backed away from it then. I think the collective voice is gonna say a lot to Trenton again, today,” Fulop said.
And with Fulop, Paterson Mayor Jose Torres and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (all Democrats) in attendance, it wasn’t too long before the object of their collective ire became obvious.
“He talks about creating jobs; he talks about supporting the middle class. We’re tired of the lip service. We want action and that action means supporting public transportation,” Zimmer said.
“He’s been able to afford $5.2 billion in ineffective tax subsidies, so how can you cry poverty when you forgo revenue, when you continue to give tax cuts away to the most wealthy and you say to regular working families, ‘You know what? I’m going to balance this on you,'” said New Jersey Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia.
NJ Transit says it has a $60 million deficit, brought on partly by the state’s inability to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund, a funding spigot that the agency relies on, but the mayors say Transit has millions of untapped dollars sitting in real estate holdings they could use to fill that budget gap. NJ Transit has been avoiding media interviews, referring us instead to upcoming public hearings.
The hearings — nine are scheduled — begin this weekend, and while NJ Transit can expect an earful from some disgruntled commuters, just about every observer believes, that as for the fare hikes and service cuts go, that train has already left the station.