With a March 13 strike deadline looming, New Jersey Transit management and a coalition of 11 railroad labor unions are negotiating to avoid a shutdown of the nation’s largest statewide mass transit system.
The National Mediation Board hosted talks between the agency and representatives of its 4,200 workers Friday in Washington, D.C. with more meetings scheduled Monday in Newark.
“While the discussions were positive and constructive, no agreement was reached,” the National Mediation Board said in a statement. “The parties assured the National Mediation Board that discussions will continue in the upcoming week.”
NJ Transit announced last week a contingency plan in the event of a work stoppage that would accommodate around 38% of the estimated 160,000 customers who commute on its trains during an average weekday. The plan includes adding capacity to bus routes headed to New York City in close proximity to rail stations and contracting with private carriers to operate additional buses from regional park-ride locations.
“A rail stoppage would have a severe impact on travel in the entire region, as capacity constraints on both our public transportation system and our road network limit our ability to accommodate every displaced rail customer,” NJ Transit's interim executive director, Dennis Martin, said in a statement. “NJ Transit will operate a plan that the overall system and region can safely handle to accommodate as many customers as possible who absolutely must travel into and out of New York, bearing in mind that bus service cannot replicate the railroad.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has said it will cross-honor NJ Transit tickets on PATH trains if a strike occurs. The agency is also preparing its bridges, tunnels and bus stations to handle an expected increase in riders and vehicles.
The NJ Transit Board of Directors approved a 9% fare increase that went into effect on Oct. 1 to help plug a $56 million budget gap. The agency’s 2016 operating budget is $2.2 billion. A $2.1 billion capital program is also planned.
Howard Cure, director of municipal research at Evercore Wealth Management in New York City, said a NJ Transit strike could pose major economic problems for a state already struggling financially with spending pressures, pension underfunding and weak liquidity. New Jersey has the second lowest bond rating of the 50 U.S. states at A2 by Moody's Investors Service and A by both Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s.
“It’s potentially a tremendous inconvenience,” said Cure. “They can only increase bus service by so much.”
A strike would also hamper New York City’s economy by displacing 105,000 commuters who commute from the Garden State to Manhattan on an average workday. The Partnership for New York City released a report Monday estimating that that every hour commuters are delayed in getting to work due to a NJ Transit work stoppage will cost employers in the Big Apple $5.9 million.
“A transit strike is among the most expensive events that can happen to New York City,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City. “Over 100,000 workers rely on NJ Transit to commute in and out of the city each day. A strike inconveniences these workers and results in significant losses for their employers.”