Problems and Bills Stack Up For NJ Transit

By Erin Delmore

When New Jersey Transit trains are delayed and the agency lets commuters hop on a bus, ferry or PATH train on the agency’s dime it adds up.

NJ Transit says the cost of cross-honoring between June 2014 and June of this year is more than $355,000 — that’s more than $208,000 paid to PATH and $147,000 to private bus carriers. But the agency says the bill is worth it because it allows commuters to “maximize travel flexibility” and “minimize the effect” of service disruptions.

“Train service was problematic between here and Secaucus. I had to take the PATH train at Journal Square. PATH personnel were alerted, and that worked fine,” said Nick Nagorny, who lives in Secaucus and works in Newark.

Those six-figure bills could cut a deep hole in the cash-strapped agency’s pockets.

“NJ Transit is one of the largest transportation, public transportation agencies in the state and they have a substantial amount of both rail and bus infrastructure throughout the entire state,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Sr. NJ Policy Analyst Janna Chernetz.

New Jersey Transit paid $100 million to Amtrak to use of the Northeast Corridor, Hudson River Tunnels and Penn Station this year. A New Jersey Transit spokesperson says it’s not part of their partnership with Amtrak to be reimbursed for the cost of cross-honoring tickets, including the week of July 20, when hundreds of thousands of commuters were delayed due to Amtrak’s “failure to maintain its facilities.”

More than 20,000 riders were cross-honored on PATH trains that week. Agents kept count with clickers at the gates. At $2.75 a ride, that could be a $55,000 price tag.

Although New York Waterway wouldn’t say how many tickets were cross-honored that week, they did confirm that about 15,000 more people rode a ferry that week than did the week before. At $7 a ride, that’s another six-figure bill.

“New Jersey Transit is strapped for cash in terms of capital and operating. So right now, NJ Transit is transferring money out of their capital budget to meet their operating needs. Since 2012, they’ve transferred $2 billion,” said Chernetz. “So, any additional money that NJ Transit needs to spend, and that’s not going toward repairs, not going toward expansion, is a substantial loss to both transit and New Jersey residents.”

Even though commuters say cross-honoring is useful, the policy leads to a cycle: the more service disruptions the more cross-honoring, the more cross-honoring, the bigger the bills, the bigger the bills, the less money for capital improvements…which could alleviate future disruptions.