TRANSPORTATION

For NJ Transit riders, officials plan to post a monthly report card

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday came to a train station in Montclair to sign an executive order directing NJ Transit to post a monthly report on its website detailing how well it is doing getting people where they need to go.

Under the order, the commuter rail agency would be obligated to report on every train cancellation, as well as delays and their causes.

“Nearly 1400 commuters pass through this station every day,” Murphy said at the Bay Street Station on the Montclair-Boonton line. “Our goal is to get them to where they need to be, safely and on time. Many times NJ Transit and the agency’s hard-working staff accomplishes that goal. But we also know that there are times when we are unable to do that.”

The first-term Democrat laid much of the blame for problems at the agency, which also operates bus lines that are not included in the order, at the doorstep of his Republican predecessor.

“In January of 2018 when we came into office, NJ Transit was a mess,” he said. “Under Gov. Christie, NJ Transit had been systematically gutted both financially and administratively.”

Murphy said the transit agency has been underfunded, understaffed and mismanaged, and plagued by an engineer shortage. The executive order is part of an effort to make improvements, he maintained.

“We are making up for NJ Transit’s lost decade,” he said. “It will not happen overnight. Something of this magnitude takes continued hard work and investment over time, but we are turning the corner.”

Diane Guttierez-Scaccetti, the state’s transportation commissioner and NJ Transit board chair, spoke in support of Murphy’s move.

“One might ask why an executive order,” she said. “The data is readily available today, why not just use it. To me the reason is perfectly clear. The executive order is just that — a directive to the agency for transparency, accountability and candor.”

According to a report currently posted on the agency website, NJ Transit performance has slipped in recent months. On-time rail performance for June 2019 was down, both when compared with the previous month (-3.2%) and with June 2018 (-2.5%).

On average, NJ Transit trains were on time 90% of the time for the year ending July 1, down from 91.7% the previous 12 months, according to the report.

“I believe most riders understand that a transformation couldn’t be accomplished overnight,” said Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit’s executive director, who was with Murphy. “Like turning around a battleship in the middle of the ocean, the ship is beginning to turn and for those of us already at NJT we are very excited to finally be able to see it and be able to demonstrate that.”

Transit advocates in the Legislature see improvement at the agency.

“As they say, you can make up positions but you can’t make up facts,” said Sen. Patrick Deignan, a Democrat from South Plainfield. “By the team here saying they want the riding public to know the true facts, that says we’re on the right course.”

Murphy also talked about what’s been done so far to improve things at the agency.

“We have streamlined NJ Transit’s management and wholly reformed its operational practices to make it more customer oriented, more efficient, more responsive and less bureaucratic,” he said. “Despite these advances — and there have been many — we know that we’re not there yet.”

“I think we’re almost halfway there,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti, when asked how far along in reforming the agency officials are.

The reports will begin to be posted on the website in October.