Reform Coming to the Port Authority, in a Different Way Than Expected

By David Cruz

The two governors announced their vetoes — on the Saturday evening after Christmas — at the bottom of a press release endorsing a “Comprehensive Reform Plan” that was prepared by the Panel on the Future of the Port Authority that they appointed.

The announcement elicited a sharp response from Democrats and even some Republicans who say they were caught off guard. But the leader of the Republicans in the Assembly praised it.

“I think that all of us were very supportive of the reforms, unanimous support in the legislature, but we’re never surprised as legislators that governors may have a different view. And now since this commission report has come out with extensive and global reforms at the Port Authority, the governors are saying, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s work together and do a global change at the Port Authority,’” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

The 100-page report was released a week earlier than expected to accommodate Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Saturday veto deadline. Among the recommendations in the report:

It proposes restructuring of leadership — eliminating the executive director and deputy executive director, as well as the chairman and vice chairman in favor of a CEO and a possible co-chair arrangement.

It institutes a public records policy that matches the two state’s policies.

It sells off real estate holdings, focusing the agency on its original mission to keep the region’s commuters, travelers and global shippers moving.

It redirects funds from the “Bank for Regional Development,” which governors had used for pet projects that had little to do with commuting, or shipping.

And it asks for the resignation of all current commissioners as a symbolic new start.

It’s that last recommendation that gives former Port Authority official Martin Robins pause.

“That gave me some shudders when I read that because the reason that this is happening is because certain of the commissioners are there and are doing their jobs really well and the worst case scenario would be that the good people are the ones that tender their resignations and their resignations are accepted. I understand that that is not gonna happen,” said Robins.

Robbins, no fan of Gov. Christie’s role at the Port Authority, says he was surprised at the governor’s agreeing to a plan that Robins says is a game changer at for the 100-year-old agency.

The proposal to cut overnight service on the PATH is the real eye opener in this plan. The Port Authority says it would save $10 million but commuter reaction is just about what you’d expect.

“Losing the overnight PATH train would be horrible because a lot of people rely on that, you know, to go to the city and if you think about it from a business perspective it doesn’t make sense because a lot of people spend money in New York City in the evenings and that would discourage people from going into the city,” said Jersey City resident Joseph.

“It’s a terrible mistake. I use overnight PATH service all the time and I think it’s a reason a lot of people live in this neighborhood,” said Molly Kaufman of Jersey City.

“I got a lot of workers that get off early. They work part-time shifts; they get off at 2 or 3 in the morning and that PATH train is ideal,” said Bayonne resident “Wolfey.”

The plan suggests partnering with another transit operator — assumed to be NJ Transit — to run the PATH system. An NJ Transit spokesperson had no comment on that, but that’s a proposal that’s been circulating for a while now. One of many that will be debated in the weeks and months to come as the Port Authority attempts to fix itself, rather than let someone else do it for them.