By David Cruz
The running gag among the media and some of the participants before today’s press event was that they all wanted to take NJ Transit to get here except they wanted to be on time. Such is the status of the once award-winning transit agency and such was the backdrop for presumed front runner Phil Murphy’s announcement of a plan to fix NJ Transit.
“What commuters have endured is nothing short of embarrassing and shameful and it is emblematic of an agency that has lost its way, lost its focus and desperate for leadership,” he said in front of the Trenton Transportation Center.
Murphy’s plan, such as it is, contains some obvious bullet points that almost all his fellow candidates have agreed on, including improving customer service, demanding improvements at New York Penn Station and making safety a priority.
Some highlights of the plan include short-term fixes like appointing an emergency manager to head the agency; an audit of transit, both operating and capital; expanding alternate service, like ferries and buses, to include more private carriers; and making the agency report on time and other performance issues every week.
Long-term, Murphy calls for funding the Gateway Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, restore almost all of the state’s operating assistance, adding a commuter rep to the Transit Board and finding a dedicated funding source for the agency.
Asked how he would fund some of this plan and whether it could mean new taxes, Murphy deferred to Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chair Bob Gordon.
“I think we need to be more creative than we have been in finding new sources of revenue,” suggested Gordon. “For example, we own the real estate like the Lautenberg Station in Secaucus. We can extract value from the air rights of that facility and many others. Nothing like that has ever been tried before and that could represent hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Befitting his status as the best-funded candidate who leads in all the polls, Murphy was backed up by other Democratic elected officials and union reps, including Ray Greaves of the Amalgamated Transit Union (which has endorsed Murphy).
“I have about 12 people that traveled here,” he said. “We were all at Metro Park, waiting for the NJ Transit train at 11:26 and it never showed up. They told us it would be another 29 minutes. It never showed up. They told us it would be another 50 minutes. It never showed up. So, all of the people you see here with the ATU signs had to drive here.”
Murphy said you can’t put all of NJ Transit’s problems on Amtrak, as he says Gov. Chris Christie has done. Like other critics of the governor, Murphy says Christie has ignored the agency for seven years and has forced it to use money set aside for infrastructure and safety on management.
“I think commuters think that they’re paying a huge fare to ride these trains and that that should be the dedicated source, and it isn’t. It’s an over reliance on fares, and we have to find a better way,” added Murphy.
While the Murphy plan may not contain any radical new ideas, it does suggest that the candidate is aware of what some of the most pressing issues are, and for a perceived front-runner, that’s a good thing.