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New Jersey Transit fare hike draws criticism

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(The Center Square) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is being criticized for proposing double-digit fare increases on New Jersey Transit to help plug a post-pandemic deficit at the public transportation agency.

NJ Transit has proposed a 15% fare hike for train, light rail and bus service beginning this summer, forcing tens of thousands of people who commute to New York City for work to dig deeper into their pockets. The transit agency has also proposed a 3% fare hike for every subsequent year. The last fare hike was in 2015.

While NJ Transit has received billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid, the agency says money is nearly exhausted. Ridership has returned to only 80% of pre-pandemic levels, the agency says, resulting in a nearly $2 billion reduction in fare revenue.

As such, the agency projected a $119 million deficit this fiscal year and plans to reduce that revenue shortfall with $44 million in cost reductions and $52 million in revenue enhancements.

But the agency says the fare hike is needed to close the remaining gap between expenses and revenues in the current fiscal year.

“This proposed fare adjustment, along with NJ Transit’s internal efficiencies, savings and revenue enhancements would allow for a fully funded FY25 operating budget that avoids reducing service levels,” the agency said in a statement.

But Republican lawmakers blasted the NJ Transit fare hikes as “unacceptable” and will only make it harder for our already financially strapped transit riders to make ends meet. They criticized the Murphy Administration for “egregious spending habits,” such as authorizing the transit agency to lease “extremely expensive” new headquarters.

“This was just poor fiscal management that has now left transit riders and New Jersey taxpayers shouldering the bill,” Senate Minority Leader Sen. Anthony Bucco said in a statement. “We need to be better stewards of taxpayers’ dollars and start cutting wasteful spending to address growing affordability issues such as this.”

The Regional Plan Association, a transit advocacy group, called the proposed fare hikes “unconscionable” and said it was “disappointing” that the Murphy administration didn’t propose alternatives to whittle down the agency’s revenue shortfall.

“Fare hikes, especially increases of this magnitude, should be the option of last resort, not the State’s opening salvo,” said Zoe Baldwin, the association’s New Jersey expert. “Some of this structural deficit is inherited, but that’s no excuse to leave riders holding the bag.

He said the “lack of action towards a better, dedicated funding mechanism for transit all but guaranteed that riders would get hit with a big, double-digit increase instead of smaller, easier-to-absorb increases over time.”

“There are many ways to address NJ Transit’s looming fiscal cliff without resorting to such drastic measures, and we are incredibly disappointed that none of the other options were seriously explored before riders were saddled with this fare hike,” he said.

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