NJ Transit Rail Strike Looms as Negotiations Continue

March 8, 2016 | Politics, Transportation
NJ Transit and rail union representatives continue negotiations to avoid a strike.

By Brenda Flanagan

With an NJ Transit rail strike looming down the line, several Morris County towns took early evasive maneuvers: they’ve chartered special buses to help hundreds of rail commuters with park-and-ride permits get into Manhattan, starting Monday.

In Morris Township, Administrator Tim Quinn posted advisories at Convent Station: round trip bus tickets will cost $25, first-come, first-served.

“I’m hoping that it will be what I will call, ‘organized chaos’ — that we will have enough personnel on hand, including police, to set up the lines. We’ll have staff on hand to verify parking permits,” Quinn said.

“I think that’s great, that they can do something. Because I don’t know what my son is going to do,” said Cedar Knolls resident Joyce Marashlian.

But there’s a catch: in Morris Township, it’s limited to 200 commuters, and it’s only for park-and-riders.

“I don’t understand why you have to have a parking ticket. We pay taxes here. Why wouldn’t the buses be available to anybody who commutes?” asked Eileen Bevan.

Meanwhile, NJ Transit staff posted their own advisories with its strike contingency plans — offering bus rides from five main locations. But the agency can accommodate only 38 percent of more than 100,000 regular rail riders, leaving some 60,000 commuters to find their own way. Gridlocked traffic might back up for 20 miles at Hudson River crossings, creating economic havoc.

The losses to employers would total $5.9 million per hour of delays. So if you had a strike or shutdown that would take a day or two, you’re talking about significant losses,” said Partnership for New York City President and CEO Katherine Wylde.

For some entrepreneurs, a strike could create opportunities. If there’s a strike, Clever Commute will offer its transit apps for free.

“People will use the app to share real time information about what they’re seeing, what’s working best, where the bottlenecks are and, hopefully, where the good commutes are — if that’s even possible,” said Clever Commute Founder and CEO Joshua Crandall.

Negotiations continued today at a Newark hotel, but were deadlocked over contributions to health care plans. Senate President Steve Sweeney criticized the Christie Administration noting,”The administration should be working around the clock to prevent a strike, not just to do damage control.”

Gov. Chris Christie — who’s on vacation — said he gets updates, “It’s not the job of the governor to negotiate this personally it is the job of the governors to set down parameters for the negotiations, which are executed by the professionals, who the state has hire to negotiated these contracts, not me,” he said.

“This is a strike that doesn’t have to happen, in my mind,” said Alan Vorhees Transportation Center Founding Director Martin Robins.

Robins helped steer NJ Transit through its last rail strike 33 years ago. This time, he believes unions hold the better hand in negotiations, because two federal boards have already ruled in favor of the rail unions’ position — based on similar settlements with regional railroad unions.

“They’re in the same metro area, the people are doing the same work, they’re entitled to similar type of pay, and it’s a very powerful argument,” Robins said.

Without a settlement, the clock keeps ticking. Strike deadline: midnight, Sunday.