By Briana Vannozzi
Suspensions, delays — New Jersey commuters braved it all this bitter winter. Most tried to take it in stride with a tip of the cap to Mother Nature. But as news of a fare hike looms, NJ Transit users are turning up the volume on their frustrations.
“Because it seems like just one snowflake and everything breaks down,” said Sandy Silverman.
“In [New York] Penn Station it’ll often be body to body. Just like waiting, with again not much information,” said Mackenzie Brady.
The transportation agency has an $80 million budget hole to fill. Final plans for operations are being hashed out, but as of now, NJ Transit Spokesperson Nancy Snyder said, “For this budget season everything is on the table — fare and service adjustments.”
The last increase was in 2010. NJ Transit is quick to point to increased service and technology they’ve added since then and the cost savings they’ve realized after tightening their belt over those years — nearly $40 million. But a spokesperson says it’s still not enough.
“Increased the operation efficiencies at Port Authority Bus Terminal and in addition to that provide new service, direct service into New York City for our Raritan Valley line customers. We’ve done all of this without fare increases for five years,” Snyder said.
NJTV News traveled to points north and south in the state talking to commuters who say they’ve seen little return on their investment.
“As you can hear right now once they do have an announcement it’s very hard to listen. Often times there’s a lot of static. I mean it’s a classic SNL sketch many days here,” said Joy Fournier.
“There’s been a significant increase and we were hoping this would also mean the scheduling would be more on time, there would be more on time, more efficient, but we haven’t seen that happening,” said Margaret Mysliwiec.
“People take this train in the morning but can’t take it home at night because the trains are scheduled a minimum of an hour and in later times hour and a half apart,” said George Brunelle.
“Now is not the time for another transit fare hike. Commuters are already paying a lot of money for unreliable service. To ask them to dip into their pockets more for that same unreliable inadequate service is just not the solution to the problem,” said Senior New Jersey Policy Analyst Janna Chernetz.
Chernetz of Tri-State Transportation Campaign says all roads lead to the Transportation Trust Fund, or lack of it. Fix one, you fix the other.
“The gas tax would benefit everybody. It would provide Transit with the capital in order to improve services and get people off the road to decrease congestion,” she said.
When asked if ridership is increased and fares are up, why isn’t there money to do improvements, Snyder said, “Right, and the underlying economics of that is ridership fees that come in or revenue that comes in makes up only 40 to 50 percent of what our expense dollar is so that creates an inherent budget gap.”
Because she adds, new trains, buses and lines need to be added to meet that ridership. Maintaining those lines also comes with a big price tag.
“We keep a constant close watch regarding our infrastructure ad equipment to make sure that the snow and the ice doesn’t build up on the signals and switches. As to compromising our service,” said Snyder.
They also encourage riders to sign up for text and email alerts. Transit customers told us they do and they are helpful, but say they’d happily trade in the technology if it means steady prices.