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Get ready for another NJ Transit fare increase, advocates say

Friday, March 18, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 03/16/2016

Commuters and transit advocates say they believe that riders will soon be hit with fare increases to pay for the deal that averted the state's first rail strike in 30 years. In announcing the agreement between NJ Transit and 11 unions on Friday, Gov. Chris Christie said that fares won't be raised in fiscal year 2017, which runs through June of next year, to fund the settlement. But commuters, who are feeling the fiscal pain after fares were increased by 9 percent on Oct. 1, are worried they'll be asked to pay more once again after fiscal year 2017 ends. The contract runs through 2019. And that's on a system that advocates say already has the highest fares in the nation. Riders and advocates also say they doubt the line can be held on fares because of the declining amount of state funding for the agency's operating costs. While Christie said there wouldn't be an immediate fare increase, he added that fares should periodically increase to cover inflation. Others said they expect NJ Transit will follow the lead of the MTA in New York, which has enacted several small fare increases over the past couple of years. The last MTA fare hike, in March 2015, was prompted by a contract settlement. NJ Transit's agreement would provide a total wage increase of 21 percent, averaging 2.5 percent annually. Even without the $209 million estimated cost of a tentative labor settlement, other factors are at play.

NJ Transit must pay Amtrak $100 million this year — a $20 million increase — to lease space on the Northeast Corridor line. Advocates also said there has been a steady decline of direct state subsidy of NJ Transit operating costs. Fueling fare hike worries is NJ Transit's lack of dedicated funding to pay for operating expenses, which includes the price tag of the proposed union settlement. Operating funds come from fares and the level of state subsidy, which changes according to the decisions of the governor and the legislature. Estimated that $6.5 billion in capital funding has been diverted to cover operating costs since 1990, which could have funded projects such as finishing an extension of light rail to Bergen County, or replaced aging buses and trains. That report also said that direct state funding for NJ Transit operations has declined by 90 percent between 2005 and 2016, and recommended a dedicated funding source for operations.

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