TRENTON – On the eve of NJ Transit’s scheduled vote on a massive system-wide fare hike, Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) again called for the agency to reconsider its proposed 25 percent fare increase in lieu of incremental increases that would help soften the blow for the many commuters with income limitations who rely on public transportation. Although news reports indicate that NJ Transit will scale back the fare hike to 10 percent for local bus service, that still leaves hundreds of thousands of interstate rail and bus commuters vulnerable to the larger 25 percent hike.
“This plan has many long-term consequences and I fear that it has not been considered with an adequate amount of foresight,” said Sen. Turner. “There are many factors that should be taken into consideration before instituting the largest fare hike in NJ Transit history. The huge financial drain it will place on the state’s low and middle income commuters and the long-term effects it will have on our roadways and the economy are just some of the factors that should be taken into consideration.
“Many of my constituents have reached out to my office worried they will no longer be able to afford to get to work. As an example, one of my constituents commutes to New York daily for a job that pays $46,000. Under a monthly train pass, she will be hit with an $85 increase, for a total of $425 a month. At a certain point, you have to question whether you’re working simply so you can afford to get to work. We need to find more equitable means for addressing the state’s fiscal problems. At the very least, incremental increases would be more reasonable, particularly for those on a fixed income with limited transportation options.
“We can’t lose sight of what it truly means to pinch pennies for our low and middle income earners, particularly in this economy. Compounding the problem is the fact that the state’s neediest families have already been hit hard by the Governor’s decision to eliminate transportation funding under the state’s Work First New Jersey program,” added Sen. Turner.
Sen. Turner pointed out that the proposed fare hikes create a recipe for disaster when coupled with Governor Christie’s decision in February to eliminate transportation services to and from work for clients who have just transitioned off Work First New Jersey’s TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), many of whom have income levels at roughly 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
“Many people taking public transportation do so not out of convenience, but necessity. Most clients who have just transitioned from the state’s TANF program are typically making very little money, not enough to even support a family. Now you’ve eliminated their mode of transportation to and from work, forcing them to pay for public transportation while they brace for the fare hike to kick in. It says a lot about our character as a state if we attempt to solve our transit crisis by serving up a double hit to the working poor,” added Sen. Turner.
Sen. Turner also cited the broader consequences of the fare hikes on both state roadways and the economy as yet another reason NJ Transit should consider scaled back incremental rate increases.
“Typically when fares are increased, we see a decrease in ridership. Now, not only are fares being increased, but services are being cut, creating an even further disincentive to use mass transit. Those that choose public transportation out of convenience, rather than necessity, may now decide it’s just as economical to drive to work, forcing more cars on the roadway and increasing congestion and pollution. In a state as densely populated as ours, we should be doing everything we can to promote mass transit in order to reduce congestion. Furthermore, if these fare hikes turn people away from mass transit, will the reduced ridership eventually force another fare hike to make up for the lost revenue?
“The increased financial drain posed by the fare hikes may also slow our economic recovery by taking more money out of people’s pockets, money that could be used towards the purchase of vital goods and services that will help reinvigorate our economy. I implore NJ Transit’s Board of Directors to consider these factors before moving forward with these massive hikes,” added Sen. Turner
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