Audit's recommendations will challenge New Jersey Transit
New Jersey’s mass transit system requires more sustainable revenue streams and reliable funding sources to solve decades of systemic problems, according an audit released Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The audit, which Murphy ordered soon after taking office in January, said that funding for New Jersey Transit is "inadequate, uncertain and unsustainable" with the agency also lacking a plan to oversee $5.3 billion in capital assets. The 179-page report said a lack of consistent state funding has contributed to a myriad of problems at the nation’s largest statewide mass transit system from delayed infrastructure repairs to retaining key staff members.
"This audit will allow us to begin rebuilding New Jersey Transit and restore faith in its operations,” said Murphy during a press conference Tuesday. “This is fixable and within our grasp.”
Murphy increased New Jersey’s contribution toward NJ Transit by $240 million in his first budget, but the audit said that the agency is still feeling the effects of “dramatically reduced” state operational support from 2009 to 2017. The audit, which was conducted by North Highland Worldwide Consulting, said NJ Transit should try and gain alternative funding sources through public-private partnerships, sales taxes and fees on ride-hailing services executed by other large mass transit systems.
Janna Chernetz, senior New Jersey policy analyst for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said audit recommendations calling for an office to oversee strategic planning along with overhauls to staffing and procurement are “long overdue” and will help establish a foundation for future reforms. She said however that the audit was “weak” in recommending funding solutions and is concerned about findings that show NJ Transit staff are often preoccupied with "emergencies" due to budget decreases.
“Efforts must be focused identifying stable and reliable funding sources...and not on the backs of riders,” said Chernetz. “This is will be key in instituting a comprehensive reform of the agency, especially in hiring and retaining top talent at competitive wages as wells as keeping aging infrastructure in state of good repair and increasing capacity to meet growing demand. “
The audit did not tackle NJ Transit’s delayed implementation of the federally-mandated Positive Train Control safety system and how it may miss a Dec. 31 installation deadline. NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett, who Murphy appointed in March, has previously said he may request that the Federal Railroad Administration push its deadline to install the technology designed to prevent accidents off until 2020 in order to prevent fines.
Murphy did not rule out potential fare increases occurring in the next couple years to confront NJ Transit’s numerous fiscal challenges. The agency last raised fares by 9% for the 2016 fiscal year to address a $56 million budget gap.
“We’re holding off on any fare hike at least until next June 30th,” said Murphy. “In a perfect world, I’d love to see that go on even longer, but I’m not sure we’re in a perfect world.”