TRENTON – In an effort to reform operations and enhance the mission of NJ Transit, and to improve the quality of service for its thousands of daily customers, the Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would increase transparency and accountability, and also strengthen and grant more independence to the NJ Transit board. Additionally, the bill would require greater detail to be made available on the agency’s capital program and finances, and would establish a new Office of Customer Advocate.
“NJ Transit is a critical and necessary institution whose service and mission stretch the breadth and length of our state. Unfortunately, in the last decade, we have witnessed all too often a deterioration of basic services, inefficiency and a waste of valuable resources. With this legislation we hope to begin to restore the reputation of what is a vital economic resource for our state, and a practical necessity of daily life for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey commuters,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen).
“While these reforms are not all I would have wished for, they provide for more accountability and transparency, give more power to the governing board, and represent a solid starting block from which to build a stronger NJ Transit in the months and years to come,” said Senator Weinberg.
Under the legislation, the New Jersey Transit Corporation will be governed by a board of 13 members. The 11 voting members would include:
- the Commissioner of Transportation (who would serve as board chair) and the State Treasurer, who would be ex officio members, and one more member to be selected by the governor, who would also be ex officio;
- four members who would be nominated by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate; and
- four members with transportation, public transportation or transportation capital construction experience, including one recommended by the President of the Senate, one recommended by the Speaker of the General Assembly and two appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The board also would include two non-voting union representatives.
The bill restructures the position of the Customer Advocate, which would remain within the Department of Transportation, but would be independent of NJ Transit management control and would be supervised by NJ Transit’s board of directors.
The Customer Advocate would be authorized to conduct investigations, initiate studies, conduct research, present comments and testimony before the board of directors, and would be required to arrange for meetings with NJ Transit passengers, on at least a monthly basis.
To enhance transparency and accountability, the bill would require the board of directors to review and approve major planning documents. Also, the bill would require the board to take an active role in developing and adopting new corporate bylaws within 180 days of the effective date of the bill, and require that those bylaws be made available to the public and published on NJ Transit’s website.
“The bill explicitly requires the board to review, approve, and monitor the operational and capital decisions of the corporation, and to have a stronger hand in operational and capital planning,” noted Senator Weinberg. “The board is not meant to be a rubber stamp, and this bill would ensure the board holds real decision-making power.”
In terms of public meetings, the bill would require that board agendas be provided to the public five calendar days prior to the meeting and except that one-half of the total number of meetings of the board shall be held in the evening after 6 p.m. Board meetings would be viewable on the corporation’s website in real time and shall be archived for subsequent viewing. The board shall be required to hold a minimum of 10 public board meetings per year.
“Let us remember that this is just a start. A good start, but only a start nonetheless,” reminded Senator Weinberg. “We all have a lot of work to do if we want to ensure that NJ Transit is capable of delivering the reliable, on-time service its riders have a right to expect.”
The legislation passed by a 25-4 vote and now goes to the Assembly for approval.