Transit transparency: Monthly reports will tell you how your commute is going
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
For commuters who depend on NJ Transit to get them in and out of the city every weekday, they will soon know just how bad — or good — their commute actually is.
Governor Murphy was at Montclair’s Bay Street Station Monday to announce that NJ Transit will become more transparent in letting commuters know how the agency is performing with delays and cancellations. Performance reports will be shared monthly on the agency’s website beginning in October.
Murphy blamed the Christie administration’s underfunding of NJ Transit for understaffing, and delays and cancelations experienced by the mass transit system’s 144,475 weekday riders.
On a sweltering Monday afternoon, Murphy sat outside the Bay Street Station and signed Executive Order No. 80, requiring NJ Transit to release a monthly report of cancelations and delay numbers through the agency’s website. The postings will also include reasons behind the delays and cancellations, whether due to manpower, trespassers, weather or mechanical failures.
This summer has brought yet another hassle for Montclair commuters. The typical commute for many NJ Transit riders here — a direct train to New York Penn Station through Bay Street Station — has been diverted to Hoboken to make connections, due to Amtrak repair work that took out two tracks at Penn Station. Direct service will resume in September.
“[The monthly release of numbers] will keep NJ Transit honest, focused and on task,” Murphy said, giving NJ Transit credit for its “courage” for going live with the numbers. “The good, the bad and the ugly will now be available to the public,” he said.
Increased transparency will not only hold NJ Transit accountable, Murphy contends, but will also show that the transportation agency is moving in the right direction.
From 2009 to 2016, NJ Transit experienced a 90 percent reduction in state operating subsidies, while it saw a 23 percent increase in ridership from 2002 to 2017. The results of those two opposing trends were fare increases, minimal capital investment, mechanical failures, safety concerns, loss of engineers and overall customer dissatisfaction.
NJ Transit officials said that since 1990, the agency has diverted $7 billion that could have been invested in new rail cars — most of which are nearing 50 years old — as well as track upgrades and rail line extensions. NJ Transit was also federally mandated to install Positive Train Control technology beginning in December 2018, increasing costs.
“Improving communication with customers has been among the most important objectives in our efforts to improve NJ Transit performance, safety, and reliability,” said Murphy.
NJ Transit is addressing infrastructure needs, badly needed capital projects, equipment availability and an operator shortage, said president and CEO Kevin Corbett, acknowledging that they “still have a lot of ground to make up.” Five hundred new bus operators have been hired and 100 new engineers are expected to graduate in October, Corbett said.
In 2020, NJ Transit will be rolling out a five-year capital improvements plan, Murphy said.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) said she would use Corbett’s speech as a checklist to follow up on improvements promised.
NJ Transit has bus routes in 386 municipalities and rail service in 116 towns.
The agreement will ensure that NJ Transit will be held accountable for administrations to come, said Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
Montclair resident Devorah Serkin, who has experienced the diverted commute over the summer, said although public transportation is not perfect, she has hopes that it will improve.
“I am in no rush to go out and buy a car,” she said.