Ticket to Ride? NJTRANSIT Shut Out of Increased FY22 Budget Funding
Environment New Jersey
A joint statement from Clean Water Action – Environment New Jersey – Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Trenton –As the state enters the final countdown to solidifying the FY22 budget, all things in Trenton are pointing to the unfortunate state of status quo for funding for NJTRANSIT. In the moment of abundance of funding, between infusion of federal money and surplus state revenue, those in command still are not able to muster the political will to rescue an agency we all agree is sinking if it hasn’t already hit bottom yet. Despite the promises to “fix NJTRANSIT if it kills me,” the Governor has yet to put forth a funding plan during his term for the agency that does not include raids or debilitating transfers.
Both legislative leadership and the Governor had rebuked the most recent efforts of a bipartisan cadre of legislators, led by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, and a diverse array of labor, business and environmental interests to right the ship with her budget request to end the the $360 million capital to operating transfer and the $82 million raid on the Clean Energy Fund.
We strongly support Majority Leader Weinberg that it is mindblowing that despite $10 billion in new revenue since February, the Governor, Senate President and Speaker are rushing forward on a budget that does not end the raids and that does not create stable funding for NJTRANSIT.
The agency has been slowly hobbled from a lack of dedicated operating funding whereby it has been forced into the cannibalistic funding practices of transferring hundreds of millions of dollars annually – more than $10 billion since the practice started in 1990 – from its capital budget just to keep the lights on, ongoing raids from the NJBPU’s Clean Energy Fund and saddling riders with five fare hikes since 2002, the last one in 2015 leaving NJTRANSIT customers paying some of the highest fares in the nation and outpacing inflation by as much as 25 percent. NJTRANSIT was hollowed out in the Christie years and severely underfunded — and it remains the largest transit agency in America without a dedicated funding source.
The unstable and unpredictable nature of this funding scheme has starved the agency from the ability to expand its network — including the Glassboro to Camden Light Rail and the expansion of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, invest in innovative technologies like the mandated transition to an electric bus fleet over the next decade, and led to a low employee morale which trickles down to the customer level. NJTRANSIT lags other comparable agencies in its slow transition to an all-electric bus fleet. The agency does not have one electric bus in circulation and while the launch of the pilot project in Camden should happen late this year, the planned electric expansion of the bus fleet in future years will be directly pegged to stable and increased capital funding.
This is a disservice for a public transportation agency that provides a vital service for residents of NJ; especially those who are transit dependent. This vital role was made even more evident as the state was forced into an all but complete shutdown as a response to COVID-19. Essential workers and transit dependent residents, often intra-city bus riders from BIPOC and low income communities, continued to rely on NJTRANSIT to get to work, grocery stores and access to other essential services.
Even with vaccination rates hitting 70%, the pandemic has permanently altered employer and employee work patterns throughout the state. As the state begins its recovery, ridership is beginning to bounce back, but it is nowhere close to its pre-pandemic levels, especially for white-collar rail workers, who have fully acclimated to remote work. A roughly 20% of NJTRANSIT’s ridership transitioning to remote work would create an annual budget hole of $200 million. This is the best argument on why the agency needs dedicated funding and to invest in finally ending the ongoing capital to operating funding raids and end the siphoning off of NJBPU’s Clean Energy Fund.
New Jersey needs and deserves a fully funded and modern transit system and there is still time to put NJTRANSIT on the right course and that moment is now. There is deep irony that traditionally there is not enough funding to end the NJTRANSIT and Clean Energy Fund raids. Now, with the exact opposite scenario of unprecedented revenue, there is too much money to prioritize funding NJTRANSIT. We shouldn’t wait for the fiscal cliff for NJTRANSIT to appear in future years when federal recovery inevitably runs out, and even waiting for additional federal funds obscures that the long-term fix for NJTRANSIT starts at the state level.
We urge the Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker to provide a downpayment on a permanent dedicated funding source for NJTRANSIT by working to increase funding for NJTRANSIT and end the capital to operating and Clean Energy Fund raids in the FY22 budget. This would be the best tribute to the straphangers of NJTRANSIT and help ensure a transit future so that our trains and buses aren’t saddled with future service cuts and potential fare hikes.”