Testimony of Zoe Baldwin, Tri-State Transportation Campaign on the proposed NJ Transit Fare Hikes and Service Cuts
NJ Transit Headquarters, Newark
March 25, 2010

Hello, my name is Zoe Baldwin, and I am the NJ Advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit advocacy organization working toward a fiscally sound, environmentally sustainable and socially just transportation system in NJ, NY and CT. I am also a Newark resident and daily NJ Transit rider.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign calls on the legislature and Governor Christie to restore funding to NJ Transit, and asks the legislature to stand up for their constituents, so transit riders are not (literally) left out in the cold. System-wide service cuts keep us from our jobs and our families and  fare hikes force us to pay 25% more for the pleasure. Raising fees on transit riders while avoiding raising fees on car or truck drivers is a decidedly selective way of funding transportation, but it hurts New Jerseyans across the board.  Riders that do own a car will start to drive, adding traffic and pollution to our roadways, and those that depend on transit to get around will be forced to pay more for less service and longer waits. Our economy will suffer as worker productivity declines and transportation jobs are slashed.

All of these problems and hardships could be solved with one legislative action: fix the Transportation Trust Fund and ensure adequate funding for NJTransit. For too long, Governors and Legislatures has starved NJTransit. Reauthorizing the Fund could provide needed revenue to fix Transit’s funding problems while shoring up spending for road and bridge maintenance.  

The Transportation Trust Fund will be broke next year. Over the next 12 months, our legislators and Governor will have the opportunity to fix our broken transportation funding system – and everyone in this room who cares about NJ Transit should get involved, and tell the Governor that transit riders can no longer pay for the mistakes of politicians of the past.

If however, Governor Christie and our state leaders are unable to muster the courage to stand up for transit riders, Tri-State has a few suggestions to soften the blow.

First, reduce the severity of service cuts by using federal stimulus dollars for NJTransit operations. States are able to flex 10% of federal transit funds from the ARRA stimulus package to pay for day-to-day operations. Cities like Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Seattle have used this provision to stop service cuts and we urge NJTransit to consider the same.

Second, postpone a portion of the fare hike. The 25% hike is too high, and this round of fare hikes are nearly triple the size of the 2007 increase. It is foolhardy to assume every household budget is prepared to absorb this kind of increase, especially as some families face up to $1,200 annual increases. The last toll increase on the Parkway and Turnpike planned for two separate toll increases a few years apart. Transit riders deserve the same courtesy. 

Third, lower the increase for bus riders. Although press reports about NJ Transit almost always focus on commuter rail issues, nearly two-thirds of New Jersey Transit users are bus riders, many with incomes below the state median.  In fact, riders on bus routes in and around Newark make up fully 24% of NJ Transit’s total ridership.  Newark is far and away the bus riding capital of New Jersey, and revenue derived from higher transit prices will disproportionately be paid by bus riders.  Thus, a statewide fare increase hits cities like Newark the hardest, where 23% of households are below the poverty level, and the median family income is only 62% of the U.S. median.  Lowering the hike for bus riders will at least soften the blow for NJ’s most vulnerable transit users.

If Transit passes this 25% increase, fares will have increased 68% since 2000 - more than twice the 24% rise in general consumer prices over that time. The health of NJ’s transportation depends on NJ Transit, and lawmakers in Trenton need to stop using riders as financial scapegoats.

This is about people. This is about the environment. This is about the economy. We all rely on the benefits of NJ Transit, yet the agency’s financial need is urgent, dire and growing. Please do something to stop these cuts.