White paper recommends NJ Transit fixes start at the top

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Another morning, another commuter nightmare. Twenty minute delay, 45 minutes, PATH cross-honoring. If you make this commute every day it’s frankly no surprise. Putting the brakes on the agency’s decade of decline is going to prove as difficult as installing Positive Train Control.

“There are years of overlooked issues to account for,” said the governor, introducing the new head of NJ Transit in January, with perhaps the understatement of the year.

But, with a $242 million investment in the new budget signaling a real commitment to the agency, NJ Transit seems headed for a turnaround. But first things first, reform on the management side, starting at the top. A new white paper from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign recommends an overhaul of the board of directors. Janna Chernetz is a policy analyst with Tri-State and a co-author of the white paper.

“What Tri-State came up with is what we believe the ideal board of directors would be for NJ Transit,” she said. “It’s going to be a diverse board. It will have a variety of areas of expertise, including real estate, development, transportation, transit, diversity in gender, ethnicity and geographic diversity.”

In other words, unlike the current, nine-member, largely white, corporate-based body, still short two members, Tri-State recommends the board be bumped up to 13 or 15 members like the southeast Pennsylvania system, SEPTA, or Rhode Island’s RIPTA. It also wouldn’t hurt if those people knew something about what it’s like to, you know, commute to work.

“Sometimes it comes, sometimes it don’t,” said one man. “If you miss it, then they won’t let you on the bus, and then you’ve got to wait for another bus and all that.”

Nearby, another commuter complained about the seating, although he says he’s found a workaround for scheduling confusion.

“Well, the thing is, if you’re smart like me, you have your transit apps. You know when the bus is coming,” he said. “That’s what I use so I don’t complain about that.”

The app is actually one thing that commuters rave about. But comfort, reliability, and yeah, on-time service – app not withstanding – are still the biggest complaints.

“Sometimes on the weekend they’re really slow as hell and you can’t get anywhere where you want to go on time,” added another commuter. “That’s the only problem I have with them.”

Change here will have to come in baby steps. A bill that would have made changes to the board of directors law passed the state Senate but is stalled now in an Assembly committee.