COVID has wrecked NJ Transit budget, but fares will not go up next year

Daniel J. Munoz//October 23, 2020

COVID has wrecked NJ Transit budget, but fares will not go up next year

Daniel J. Munoz//October 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated NJ Transit’s ridership and triggered a 62% drop in revenue this year.

But commuters can rest assured that fares will not increase for NJ Transit at least through June 30, 2021 – marking the third year in a row, the agency’s board of directors said at its Wednesday evening board meeting.

New Jersey Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.

“We know how critically important mass transit is for essential workers and our transit-dependent customers, many of whom are facing financial uncertainty as a result of the pandemic.” NJ Transit President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett said in a Wednesday evening statement.

Fares are expected to cover $374 million in next year’s budget, an amount that was revised down from nearly $994 million. Rail and bus ridership fell by over 90% in the spring, improving slightly to 81% as of July, NJ Transit said.

In 2019, fares made up 41% of NJ Transit’s budget, a level that it could return to by June 2021, according to William Viqueira, the agency’s chief financial officer and treasurer.  Roughly $955 million of federal relief from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, in support of a $2.6 billion spending plan.

NJ transit marked $860 million in decimated revenue from the loss of ticket sales, commercial revenue and state subsidies. Commercial revenue made up $82 million, compared to $117.5 million last year, while the state subsidy will be just $38, compared to over $475 million last year.

Frontline workers had been considerably dependent on bus service throughout the bulk of the pandemic, Corbett said, with the most recent count putting ridership at 70% of pre-COVID-levels.

“It is increasing incrementally, and it will only increase as New York City opens,” he said during the Wednesday evening meeting.

Rail ridership still lagged at between 20% and 25% however, according to Corbett.

He warned that NJ Transit could be left stranded should Washington not come through with another iteration of CARES Act relief. That could mean service cuts in order to balance the books.