💲 The increase takes effect on July 1 across all NJ Transit platforms

💲 One board member called it a "gut-wrenching" vote

💲 The board rejected requests to keep the FlexPass program

The NJ Transit Board of Directors unanimously approved a 15% across-the-board fare increase at its meeting Wednesday despite overwhelming public opposition and last-minute appeals to reject the plan.

The increase, NJ Transit's first since 2015, will take effect July 1 with an automatic 3% increase every year that will not require public hearings. What the agency calls a "fare adjustment" is designed to help close an estimated $119 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2025 resulting from a significant drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic that has not fully recovered.

Board member Shanti Narra called it a "gut-wrenching" reluctant vote in favor of the increase and said she understands its financial impact. But she felt a responsibility to the fiduciary situation that NJ Transit faces.

"Every one of you who said NJ residents deserve safe, efficient and affordable public transportation are 100% right. If there was a way to deliver that to everybody without these fare hikes I would be 100% on board," Narra said.

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Example of fare increases proposed by NJ Transit
Example of fare increases proposed by NJ Transit (NJ Transit)

Last-minute appeals for rejection

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, a Democratic candidate in the 8th Congressional District, called the increase a "back door tax on working families" and an unconscionable effort to balance NJ Transit's budget on the backs of working-class families.

"These people live paycheck to paycheck to get to work and rely on mass transit. How is it good policy to put a heavier financial burden on these people who are the economic engine of New Jersey," Bhalla said before the vote.

Bhalla also challenged board members to prove they are not a rubber stamp for Gov. Phil Murphy by calling his personal cell phone to explain.

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David Pringle of Empower New Jersey said the vote should be delayed until the budget process is complete. He pointed out that Murphy's proposed 2.5% Corporate Transit Fee which is earmarked for NJ Transit, has not yet been approved. He suggested the Turnpike Authority's recent toll hike could be used for NJ Transit.

Murphy has stated that the fee is temporary until NJ Transit's fiscal issues are solved.

The board in its vote rejected commenters on Wednesday who asked the board to reconsider the elimination of the FlexPass program and the expiration of one-way tickets after 30 days.

Of the 1,151 messages received received by the board during the public comment period before Wednesday, 921 said the increase was “too large.” Ninety said the annual 3% increase that is part of the plan is also too large and should be subject to public hearings.

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Electronic toll scanners hangs above Broadway near Columbus Circle in Manhattan
Electronic toll scanners hangs above Broadway near Columbus Circle in Manhattan (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Another financial gut punch for commuters

Tolls increased by 15 cents on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway on March 1. Murphy called it an investment in the maintenance of the state's highways.

The MTA is ready to implement its congestion pricing plan that will add $15 to the ride into Manhattan south of 60th Street but must wait for judges to decide on several lawsuits including one by New Jersey.

If the plan survives those legal challenges, New York will become the first U.S. city to implement a congestion pricing scheme. Such schemes have been implemented in London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore.

Blaming Murphy

Senate Republican Leader Anthony M. Bucco said that the increase betrays Murphy's hope of affordability in New Jersey.

"From escalating gas taxes and increasing highway tolls, to raising taxes on employers and cutting funding to certain school districts, Governor Murphy and Trenton Democrats have relentlessly betrayed their promise to make New Jersey more affordable – and if that wasn’t bad enough, now they’re price gouging public transit riders," Bucco said in a statement. "If we truly want New Jersey to be a great place to live, work, and raise a family, Republicans need to be given a seat at the table to properly address our affordability crisis."

(Includes material Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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