“You have a better job of fixing the Titanic than righting NJ Transit,” said Hoboken resident Brian Hornak who was one of the dozens of NJ Transit riders who aired frustrations with the agency at a recent special senate committee hearing.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who created the committee, said the joint panel aims to investigate NJ Transit’s operational and service problems over the next several months before making recommendations in time for state budget discussions.
According to Sweeny, one of the committee’s main goals is to identify a reliable source of funding for NJ Transit, but he said he wasn’t sure what that was because the committee is still fact-finding.
“We’re open to ideas,” he said. “We’re going to be listening to people, and we’re going to try and figure it out. … If I had the solutions to all these questions, day one, what’s the sense of doing the hearings? We would just go ahead and fix things.”
NJ Transit’s approved 2020 budget includes an additional $150 million in general fund support from the State of New Jersey for a total subsidy of $457.5 million, the largest NJ Transit general fund subsidy in state history.
According to NJ Transit, more than 40 percent of the agency’s operating budget is funded by customer revenue. The remaining funds come from a combination of commercial revenue and state and federal resources.
Approximately 53 percent of the capital budget comes from the State Transportation Trust Fund, with 42 percent from federal funds and five percent from other sources.
The bipartisan panel is composed of Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Deputy Majority Leader Sandra Cunningham, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Patrick Diegnan, Senator Joe Cryan, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Senator Kip Bateman, and Senator Kristin Corrado.
Several people from across the state testified before the committee in the waiting room of the Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, discussing train cancellations, infrequent buses, and more. They were only steps away from the construction still underway as a result of the fatal 2016 train crash.
Jersey City Heights resident and member of the Riverview Neighborhood Association Roger Heitman said he and neighbors collected 800 petition signatures that they presented to Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, who secured a meeting with NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett and bus managers last fall.
“We’ve had mixed results,” Heitman said. “We have gotten a few extra trips on the 119 bus that goes into Manhattan, and there’s been some improvement with the transportation issues coming from the Heights into Hoboken regarding traffic signals, but by and large we don’t see a whole lot of improvement.”
He said that despite the meetings they’ve had with NJ Transit, they’re always told it’s the same issues such as lack of bus drivers, lack of buses, and lack of space at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey bus terminal.
“It still seems to be an insurmountable problem at this point,” Heitmann said.
He also noted that Journal Square is continuing to be developed with more and more residential buildings under construction, but the few additional buses that were added to the routes won’t be able to handle the increase of commuters.
He suggested one source of funding could be a trust fund these developers would have to pay into to provide more reliable transportation.
“It doesn’t seem there is any plan to handle all those additional commuters,” he said. “It’s like management by crisis. Why not have a trust fund developers pay into?”
Bayonne resident Vincent Fedor said he frequently rides the 81 and 119 buses and said that while the new NJ Transit app is good, it still has a lot of issues. Primarily it doesn’t accurately tell riders when the bus will arrive, and sometimes doesn’t track them at all.
“When there is a no show, I’ll never receive any alerts,” he said, noting that NJ Transit isn’t used only by commuters but also by people with shopping bags or with children trying to get to and from school.
“One theme we heard throughout tonight is it feels as though there is a disconnect between this large statewide behemoth of an agency and having a connection to the local cities it operates in,” said Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.
She said one issue she speaks about on at least a quarterly basis with NJ Transit is the need for more transportation in northern Hoboken as more residential development is being constructed in the area.
She said buses such as the 126 bus to Manhattan are consistently at capacity with long lines of commuters.
She said one way NJ Transit is trying to accommodate these commuters is by addingarticulated buses to the route but added that the agency should also add another light rail station in Hoboken’s northwest.
She said the agency should work with municipalities.
Hoboken resident Nicola Maganuco, who runs the twitter account @HobokenCommuter that promotes local commuter issues and traffic alerts, echoed Fisher’s comments, noting lines for the 126 bus often wrap around the corner and suggested expanding bus routes west of Clinton Street because there is a growing population in that area with new developments.
Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers that advocates for improved and expanded rail and bus service, said he was delayed in getting to the Nov. 13 hearing because of a train cancellation.
This was one of several issues he spoke about, including a lack of transparency, lack of communication, issues with the small board of directors, and a lack of board representatives who use NJ Transit frequently.