Senator Questions Long-Term Effects of Fare Hikes & Suggests Incremental Increases to Ease Burden Particularly on those Already Hit by Transportation Cuts
TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer), in advance of today’s public hearing at the Trenton Transit Station, called for a more sensible approach to New Jersey Transit’s fiscal crisis, voicing her opposition to a proposed 25 percent system-wide fare hike because of 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 state roadways and the economy. In doing so, Sen. Turner proposed an incremental fare increase to help ease the burden, particularly on the state’s neediest families who have already been hit by the Governor’s decision to eliminate transportation funding under the state’s Work First New Jersey program.
Sen. Turner has submitted a letter to the NJ Transit Board of Directors to formalize her opposition to the hike. Additionally, she has pledged to consider any legislative remedies that might offer alternatives to such a severe rate hike and services cut.
“We can’t lose sight of what it truly means to pinch pennies for our low and middle income earners, particularly during this economy,” said Sen. Turner. “My office has been flooded with complaints from residents worried they will no longer be able to afford to get to work. 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.
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 from the state’s TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
Assistance benefits provided to eligible adults under Work First New Jersey’s TANF program are considered a temporary cash subsidy to bridge the gap while individuals seek and obtain self-sufficiency through employment. Employed individuals who have recently transitioned from TANF benefits are eligible for a subsidized bus or train pass and/or other transportation services to help them get to and from work. Most post-TANF clients typically 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. This is especially true for clients who have just transitioned from the state’s TANF program. Most post-TANF clients 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. That’s like throwing someone off a cliff and then forcing them to sit there while they wait for the avalanche to come toppling down. This is an enormous increase for someone making very little to begin with and may precipitate a rise in unemployment if people can’t afford to get to work. 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 questioned the broader consequences of the fare hikes on both state roadways and the economy.
“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? This 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,” added Sen. Turner