By Brenda Flanagan
“You may not feel it, but the riding public will feel it. And they’re already expressing that,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 819 President Ben Evans.
Opponents packed the meeting room to take parting shots at the proposed 9 percent fare hikes and service cuts designed to close a $56 million budget gap, before NJ Transit’s board voted.
“I want you to please think about that single mother, that single father that now has to dig in their pockets a little bit deeper to make ends meet,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 823 Business Agent Earl Hardy.
“These service cuts and fare hikes cannot be viewed out of context. They represent the second increase in five years, taken together, amounting to an over 30 percent increase on New Jersey’s working families,” said New Jersey Working Families Alliance Policy and Communications Director Rob Duffy.
The fare increases will boost monthly train passes between Metropark and Penn Station by $26. A bus pass from Fair Lawn to Port Authority will climb to $14. A monthly light rail pass from Tonnelle Avenue to Eighth Street up by $6 — all effective Oct. 1. Service cuts start Sept. 1 and eliminate two late trains and six bus routes — including Tammy Ehrhart’s. She brought her family along to complain.
“It’s already running on a weekday-only schedule. Perhaps we can do a little more and save people from having to jump back in their cars and drive again,” she said.
Advocates repeatedly urged the board to vote no.
“Please do not be bobbleheads. Use your independent judgment and understand if you vote for this, you’ll be starting the dismantling of the best transportation system we’ve ever had in this state,” said NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
“I hope that you’ll reconsider these fare increases and service cuts because it’s not right to put it on the backs of commuters. There’s other ways we can close these gaps,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 880 President Joe Romeo.
But NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim claimed the agency started with a $120 million budget deficit and used a scalpel to trim overtime and fuel costs. They made cuts.
“We had difficult choices to make and ultimately felt the combination of the fare and small service adjustments we were recommending were the only way we could fill the $56 million gap,” she said.
One non-voting board member urged the board to table the issue, and send a letter to Gov. Chris Christie seeking a stable source of transportation funding.
“We have a governor, it seems to me now, who has turned his back on NJ Transit, turned his back on the riders and turned his back on workers and working families,” said Raymond Greaves.
But the board said the only real alternative was 10 percent cuts in NJ Transit staffing and didn’t want to go there.
“It’s crisis of our own making over the last several decades where we have not — as a society — invested in transportation,” said NJDOT Commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Jamie Fox.
The board voted unanimously to approve the fare hikes and the service cuts. Now commuters are going to have to figure out how to deal with it.