By David Cruz
New Jersey was just one of hundreds of sites across the country where transit officials, advocates and mostly Democratic elected officials marked what they’re calling Stand Up for Transportation Day. The goal? To get the federal government to find reliable sources for funding mass transit before the federal funding runs out May 31.
“Without the certainty of long-term funding, at all levels of government, including here in New Jersey, it will be impossible for us to make the long-term planning commitments needed to maintain our vital transit services,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim.
Congressman Bill Pascrell says he’ll introduce a bill next week that will try to stabilize funding sources for transportation projects like renovations to the bus garage in Paterson. His bill would index the federal gas tax to the rate of inflation — not a tax increase he says, more like an adjustment.
“Apparently our politicians and many of our citizens are frightened by even bringing up the word. We gotta solve this problem; the money ain’t gonna fall from the sky, and we need to pay for it. We gotta pay for this garage. We gotta pay for the workers who do the work every day. We gotta pay for the buses to maintain them,” Pascrell said.
But with a transit agency in perpetual deficit and new fare hikes and service cuts expected, skeptics suggest that more federal funding might be like throwing good money after bad.
“We do our best to keep track of our operating budget and keep any impact to our customers as minimal as possible,” Hakim said. “Nothing’s been decided [about fare rates and service rates] and anything that we do would be done through a very public process.”
“We are in crisis mode. Commissioner [Jamie] Fox said it before the Senate Budget Committee and Tri State has been saying this for a long time. There needs to be something done to fix the broken funding structure. Right now we’re looking at fare hikes and fare cuts. Fare hikes is not the way to do this. Transit riders shouldn’t bear the brunt of this,” said Tri State Transportation Campaign New Jersey Advocate Janna Chernetz.
Pascrell called on the governor and the rest of the state’s political leadership to “get off their fannies” to find a way to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, but admitted that a fix is still months away, meaning that if you want to stand up for transit, you’re probably going to be doing it on fewer trains and buses that will very likely cost you more to board.