No Promises or Expectations of Better Service as NJ Transit Faces Budget Hearing

May 8, 2017 | Politics, Transportation
Officials heard testimony from NJ Transit about the state of its funding.

By David Cruz

Despite assertions by the governor that the state is fully funding the agency, lawmakers are taking a hard look at the governor’s math, which some say is truthful but not entirely accurate, coming as it does not from general funds alone but re-allocated from the Turnpike Authority and clean energy funds.

“Could you detail the money that’s provided to transit to be provided in fiscal ’18 and how much is coming from the Turnpike versus the clean energy fund?” asked Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.

“There’s $140.9 that is a direct subsidy from the state, $82 million from the clean energy fund, $204 million from the Turnpike Authority. Those three items together total $427 million subsidy to transit. Transit’s also getting $677 million from the Transportation Trust Fund. They’re going to get $656.4 million from the federal funds, which brings you to that $1.76 billion total,” said DOT commissioner Richard Hammer.

The actual money from the general fund is the same as last year. But there are bills starting to mount – $1 million alone from cross-honoring deals with the Port Authority and others — and 2019 is just around the corner. The agency boss was asked if he was “OK” with the funding formula looking ahead to 2019.

“It’s way too early to talk about what 2019 is going to be bringing upon us,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro.

“That sounds like my wife wondering what kind of birthday present I’m going to give her. I keep on telling her it’s going to be a surprise. She asks me if it’s a good surprise or a not so good surprise,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“I don’t have that problem with my wife,” replied Santoro.

“Do I have that problem with your budget?” asked Schaer.

“No, I don’t,” Santoto said.

But seriously folks, nobody’s laughing at delays, derailments and just this week, adding insult to injury, the charge that the agency has lost close to $5 million in uncollected fares because they are understaffed — an assertion the agency disputed.

“We certainly have to look at the overall picture. We got to get a handle on it because we can’t go on like this,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco.

But both Hammer and Santoro seemed if not oblivious to the hue and cry of commuters, at least unfazed by it.

Hammer said, “Let me say definitively and without hesitation that we are geared up and ready.”

“Our scorecard surveys of customers continue and nearly eight of 10 say they would recommend NJ Transit to a friend or relative. This indicator is a good summary of overall satisfaction. In fact, customers who answered our most recent survey for the last quarter gave us the highest scores since the survey began six years ago. That survey was conducted in late February, early March,” said Santoro.

That also drew a few chuckles from the audience. But nobody’s going to be laughing about getting around on NJ Transit because Santoro acknowledged again today that commuters — regardless of how this agency is funded this year — will have extensive delays for the foreseeable future.

Correction: May 9, 2017
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of money cross-honoring cost NJ Transit. Cross-honoring deals cost the agency $1 million.