Substantial fare hikes and systemwide service cuts could be coming soon to NJ Transit riders as the agency addresses its growing budget shortfall.
NJ Transit is expected to detail its latest plan to offset a $300 million budget gap on Friday, and a company spokeswoman said Thursday that specific details would not be released until then.
But, NJ Transit's new executive director, James Weinstein, told The Record of Bergen County's editorial board this week that a rate increase is needed, two to four trains will be cut from every line, and many bus riders should expect to wait up to 10 minutes longer once the cuts take effect by summer.
Weinstein told the newspaper that fares could jump by the largest amount in years.
NJ Transit last raised fares in 2007, when they went up by about 9 percent.
"What we've tried to do is keep service reasonably intact," Weinstein said. "We're trying to do what we can to make this painful situation the least painful it can be."
The agency has had its state subsidy cut by 11 percent — a drop of about $33 million, and ridership is down 4 percent from last year.
Weinstein's announcement comes the same week the agency said it plans to reduce its work force by about 2 percent, trim executive salaries by 5 percent and reduce corporate contributions to employees' 401K plans by one-third. Officials say those cuts — expected to save about $30 million — represent the deepest one-year staff reduction in its 30-year history.
At least one bright note for riders: The agency doesn't expect to eliminate express train service on the Northeast Corridor — from Trenton to New York — and elsewhere. All riders will have the chance to speak out about the agency's plans during four public hearings, tentatively scheduled for later this month.
News of the impending rate hikes and service cuts has transportation advocates fuming. They say riders will suffer greatly if the expected changes come about.
"It's good to see they first looked internally before determining that riders might face a fare hike for riders, but we're still looking at situation where riders pay more and get less," said Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to reducing car dependency in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Other groups, including the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, also panned the agency's plans, saying it will make mass transit unaffordable and make more people choose their cars over train and bus service.
"That will cause more traffic problems, more pollution problems and more wear and tear on area roadways," Baldwin said. "We need to have balance."
Weinstein has said the state would not consider other ways to raise revenues for mass transit, such as toll hikes or raising the gas tax — which is the fourth-lowest in the nation and has not been raised in 20 years.