The NJ Transit reform bill was released from the Senate Transportation Committee today, Nov. 8. S2600 (Weinberg) Increases transparency and accountability for NJT and independence of NJT board members; establishes Office of Customer Advocate; requires greater detail for capital program.
“The Legislature has taken a major step forward in trying to fix and reform NJ Transit. NJ Transit has been a disaster for commuters. Every week there’s a new problem that comes up. The lack of transparency and accountability is a large part of the problem. This legislation will help allow for more open process in an agency that affects most New Jersey citizens. New Jersey is the second-biggest commuter railroad in the nation and was once a national model,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “By releasing this bill, the Senate has taken a step forward when it comes to getting control of this rogue agency. The Senate has taken an important step in restoring NJ Transit to the agency it once was. Now they need to pass it and get it to the Assembly before the end of the legislative session.”
The bill gives the board of directors more oversight, especially when it comes to hiring executive positions within the agency and developing corporate bylaws. It also clarifies the process for a standing legislative committee to require testimony or the production of documents by NJ Transit personnel before the committee.
“This legislation will help address the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to NJ Transit. This agency is constantly dealing with disasters and mismanagement. They are only a few weeks away from the federal Positive Train Control deadline, and we’re concerned that they aren’t going to make it. Instead of using the $8 billion of federal funding for capital upgrades like automatic braking, NJ Transit used it for tires and to keep the lights on,” said Jeff Tittel. “NJ Transit has failed to look at how they’ll deal with social distancing as the state reopens, and they aren’t moving forward with important projects like expanding the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line or building the Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Light Rail Line.”
The bill also establishes the Office of Customer Advocate instead of having the agency employ a customer advocate. This office will provide information and independent analysis to the NJ Transit board of directors on the impact that board and NJ Transit actions are having, or are expected to have, on NJ Transit’s customers.
“It is important that this bill will create a customer advocate office. This office will help protect commuters and riders from harmful decisions by NJ Transit. Some of the decisions made by NJ Transit in the past years, from raising rates to cutting service to pushing bad projects, have hurt New Jersey commuters. Even though NJ Transit hasn’t cut fares for five years now, keeping fares stable is not enough,” said Tittel. “We are in a state of climate urgency and we need immediate action to help protect our air. Transit agencies in other states are actually cutting or eliminating fares to encourage ridership. If we reduce and eliminate fares, it would get more people out of cars and would reduce pollution.”
NJ Transit will be required to hold at least 2 public hearings concerning the contents of the annual capital program before it adopts and implements the program, according to the bill. The bill also requires NJ Transit to hold at least two public hearings each year on its strategic plan, capital program priorities, and vision for NJ Transit’s future.
“NJ Transit is broken, which is why the Senate needs to pass this legislation quickly. They are still using capital funds for operations and maintenance, which is unsustainable. They are also still buying fossil fuel buses that will remain in the fleet for another 20 years even though they should be getting to 100% electric as fast as possible. Instead of pushing bad projects like their bus depot in Ridgefield Park, they should be electrifying our transportation system and working to build lines like the Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Line,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This bill has important reforms like having legislative oversight and establishing an Office of Customer Advocate. The people of New Jersey deserve to have a transit system to get to work on time and safely. It’s not a lot to ask.”