The halting of the ARC rail tunnel project last year has allowed NJ Transit to focus on areas such as customer service, expanding existing rail lines and finding alternative revenue sources, the head of the agency told business leaders Friday.
Executive Director Jim Weinstein said the agency is currently in a 14-month process of studying how to privatize or outsource the state’s nearly 100 parking facilities. The initiative has drawn interest from several firms and parking operators, along with members of the banking industry, Weinstein said at a New Jersey Chamber of Commerce roundtable breakfast on transportation.
“It’s very clear that we need to be able to generate other forms of revenue besides the fare increases,” Weinstein said at the event, at Forsgate Country Club, in Monroe.
He added, “Parking is one of those things that we don’t do well,” noting that NJ Transit’s capital dollars are better spent on infrastructure and vehicles.
The transit agency, which is used by nearly 500,000 commuters daily, also recently gained an important approval from federal regulators for an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line, Weinstein said. And NJ Transit is moving ahead with a project with the Delaware River Port Authority to extend the River Line light rail system, which currently runs from Trenton to Camden, down to Glassboro in Gloucester County.
Meanwhile, NJ Transit also is tracking customer service using scorecards that are collected each month from riders, tallied and then posted online, Weinstein said. Each of the initiatives has been ramped up since Gov. Chris Christie last year terminated the new $9.8 billion Hudson River tunnel.
“The fact that the project has been sort of on the backburner is a blessing in a way, because it gave us the opportunity to focus on other parts of the system,” Weinstein said.
He was joined by John Matheussen, CEO of the Delaware River Port Authority. Matheussen noted that the authority “closed a chapter” this week when its board voted to disburse the last remaining economic development funds. For about two decades, the DRPA has invested in non-transportation capital projects such as football and baseball stadiums in South Jersey and Philadelphia.
The agency is now focusing all of its resources on transportation, including more than $1 billion that will be spent in the coming years on rebuilt decades-old cars used by the Port Authority Transit Co., he said. And the DRPA is putting money toward upgrading and rebuilding the four bridges under its control
The agency also is involved in the project to extend the light rail system from Camden to Glassboro, a project that Matheussen said would help revitalize South Jersey. The new infrastructure would go hand in hand with other economic development efforts such as the new medical school at Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, which is being built in conjunction with Rowan University.
“You can start to see that there are some pieces to the puzzle out there that aren’t connected,” Matheussen said, referring to the distance between Rowan, in Glassboro, and the medical school. An extended light rail would provide an important connection between the institutions, he said.