By Brenda Flanagan
NJ Transit makes more than 955,000 passenger trips every day, many of them taken by commuters who depend on those trains and buses to earn a living. Now they’re facing a proposed 9 percent fare hike to help the agency fill a $60 million budget hole and riders are talking back at public hearings.
Ken Ramsey spoke up at one in Freehold.
“I feel a bit cynical at the end of the day, thinking it’s not really gonna go anywhere anyway, and we’re still gonna be saddled with the hike,” he said.
Ramsey takes an NJ Transit train from Aberdeen/Matawan into New York. He says his monthly pass would jump $34.
“It’s the third highest monthly expense that my family faces. To me, that’s unbelievable. We have mortgage, we have food and then we have one person’s commute into the city. And they’re looking to make that even more expensive,” he said.
“That’s real money to people living on the edge. When you are working at the poverty line, every dollar counts. That’s fewer groceries, that’s scraping it together to make your rent payment, your mortgage payment,” said Rob Duffy of the New Jersey For Transit Coalition.
At first glance, the proposed fare hikes don’t look huge. For example, a monthly pass for train trips between Metropark and Penn Station in the city would rise $26. A monthly bus pass from Fair Lawn to Port Authority would go up $14. A monthly light rail pass from Tonnelle Avenue to Eighth Street — up by $6.
“And when you add it up over the course of a year, that’s real money out of people’s pockets,” Duffy said.
“It’s the second fare hike in five years,” said Jon Whiten of the New Jersey For Transit Coalition.
Whiten’s with a coalition of consumer advocates that recently pooled resources to head off the fare hikes by offering alternatives. One idea: ask lawmakers for $60 million.
“Policymakers should think about finding $60 million in the upcoming budget to give to NJ Transit so commuters don’t have to bear the brunt of the fare hikes,” Whiten said. Asking this of people who say the budget is already so stressed they have no idea how they’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul? “That’s a very valid point, but we’re also asking them to fix the problem that they haven’t fixed for 25 years,” he said.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has advised NJ Transit should sell off its vacant lots.
“If you add in Hoboken, you’re probably looking at $150 million worth of assets,” he said. When asked if NJ Transit can plug the hole, Fulop said, “For certain. I mean they have some tremendously valuable properties that they just sit on and they use as surface parking, which is just an under-utilization of assets.”
Ramsey just wants to save that $34 a month.
“My wife is struggling to find employment, and we have recently purchased a house and we’re just trying to get a toehold on a viable existence in New Jersey,” he said.