Study State transit system at risk of running out of gas

//August 24, 2009

Study State transit system at risk of running out of gas

//August 24, 2009

Report indicates NJ Transit the largest system of its kind in U.S. without dedicated fundingTransportation for America released a report Tuesday detailing the impact of the financial crisis on public transportation systems across the country, with a distressing outlook for New Jersey.

Transportation for America, a coalition of businesses, transportation and other organizations in Washington, D.C., lobbies for policy changes to improve transit systems across the nation.

According to the report, “Stranded at the Station,” while demand has risen for public transportation, existing policies at the federal level were described as “out of date.” The report said federal agencies provide funding for local use, but do not grant flexibility to spend as needed.

In the report, NJ Transit was cited as the largest transportation system in the country that lacks dedicated funding. When the budget cut its funding by 17 percent — a reduction of $62 million — NJ Transit responded by cutting its costs, eliminating 140 staff positions and lowering its administrative spending to avoid fare hikes or reduced services.

“I commend NJ Transit for doing that, but they’re not going to be able to do that forever,” said Jay Corbalis, policy analyst with New Jersey Future, in Trenton. New Jersey Future is a smart-growth advocate that supports the use of public transportation.

Officials from the New Jersey Department of Transportation were not immediately available for comment.

However, such spartan moves by the state and other strategies may not be enough, as the report projects the state’s Transportation Trust Fund will run dry in 2011. “You can only cut operating costs from a staff side so much,” Corbalis said.

According to Corbalis, New Jersey Future would like to see more annual budget support for NJ Transit to halt the need to siphon off capital to its operations.

“We would like to see them get support from the Legislature and the Transportation Trust Fund Authority, so they don’t have to do that any more,” he said.

Corbalis said public transportation spurs economic growth in the state, citing the Hudson-Bergen Line as a catalyst for such cities as Hoboken, Jersey City and Bayonne. Money may remain limited to support such transit systems.

“Ultimately, we would like to see a dedicated source of funding” for NJ Transit,” Corbalis said. “We understand, given the economic realities, that may not be a near-term possibility.”

E-mail João-Pierre Ruth at [email protected]