Public Spending, GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS
Are Garden State motorists the piggy bank to bailout NJ Transit’s failure to adjust?
Early in his first term, Gov. Phil Murphy made the exasperated pledge to “to fix NJ Transit, if it kills me.”
Now, with the clock ticking on the Governor’s lame duck term, it appears his strategy has shifted to run out the clock and hand off familiar troubles to his yet-to-be-determined successor in January 2026.
Evidence? Look no further than his announcement that for the sixth consecutive year there would be no increase in NJ Transit fares, nor service cuts.
Ordinarily this would be seen as good news, but according to the transit agency’s own data ridership is still at only 72% of pre-pandemic levels and I can personally attest that daily park and ride lots, like Morris Plains on the popular Morris & Essex line, are veritable ghost towns on Mondays and Fridays, where spots were previously filled to capacity by 7:00 am.
Maintaining pre-pandemic service and hoping for riders to return after 3 years has placed the agency in the position of staring down the barrel of a dramatic fiscal cliff when federal COVID aid expires in 2026. According to the transit agency’s board documents, the projected annual deficit has ballooned to upwards of $550 million.
So, what’s the agency’s plan to fill that chasm? If past is prologue, Garden State motorists may be asked to dig even deeper.
Thus far, the Murphy Administration’s response has been to divert funds from toll increases to underwrite NJ Transit’s operations and void fare increases or service cuts. So far, drivers are on the hook for a commitment of $3.7 billion through fiscal year 2028, and the Murphy Administration has signaled no intention to alter the arrangement; now terming it a “dedicated” funding source.
Back in January, drivers endured yet another toll hike which resulted from a 2020 Turnpike Authority decision in the darkest days of the pandemic, to enact double-digit toll increases and set into motion what has thus far been annual toll increases on the Turnpike and Parkway. Adding to the potential pain for drivers are negotiations looming this summer to reauthorize the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which in 2016 led to a massive increase in the gas tax?
All the while, NJ Transit riders and employees are seemingly immune from the effects of inflation and the “new normal” of less dependence on public transportation by commuters.
We’ll leave it to our officials in Trenton to explain the fairness of a system that forces a blue-collar worker who drives between Carteret and Newark to underwrite, via higher tolls and taxes, a fare freeze for a millionaire who travels between Montclair and New York City a few times a week.