The state Legislature’s top elected official lambasted the Murphy administration over appearing to shift the blame towards them for New Jersey Transit’s woes, a day after lawmakers announced a legislative investigation into the agency’s “continued failures.”
“It was so disappointing to see the reaction from the administration to try to cast blame,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, told reporters following a luncheon event by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. “So for them to react that way just tells you they’re not doing enough to fix what’s wrong here.”
The select committee will launch a series of investigations and hold hearings on the beleaguered statewide transit agency to look into its longstanding issues and gauge how it can be turned around – including hearing from NJ Transit and state transportation officials, as well as transportation experts.
“We welcome the Legislature’s scrutiny and look forward to the discussion of their budgets that were negotiated with Gov. Christie and sent to his desk, which reduced state funding to the agency by as much as 90 [percent],” governor’s office spokesperson Dan Bryan said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Stop blaming us. Start fixing. You’re the governor, you’re in charge,” Sweeney added. The governor’s office could not be immediately reached for additional comment.
Sweeney – who made the rare move of directly chairing the committee – countered that the Murphy administration’s “first reaction” to its formulation “was to blame us” for NJ Transit’s issues today.
NJ Transit has been hounded by endless delays and cancellations due to equipment failures or staffing shortages. A recent New York Times report detailed how the “very worst commuter train in America” is NJ Transit’s Train 2606, which was a no-show 20 times so far this year amid many more delays.
Moreover, NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett would not rule out a fare hike during a television interview last month with NJTV.
The Senate President lambasted the administration over only offering $25 million for the budget, while lawmakers pushed for another $50 million. “The governor only offered $25 million for the budget, even though the agency said they needed $130 million,” he said.
The woes with NJ Transit came to a head several times over the past year. In April, attendees of Wrestlemania in the Meadowlands were hounded by delays that lasted upwards of two hours. NJ Transit blamed WWE officials, saying they were told the program would end by 10 p.m., though WWE denied ever giving a set timeline for how long the program would last.
The agency made a mad dash last year to install a federally mandated emergency braking system by December, which required frequent line closures – including the abrupt shutdown of the Atlantic City Line – and piled on even more delays. Revelations surfaced in 2016 following a fatal Hoboken train crash that less than 20 percent of the system had been installed. State officials have until 2020 to make sure the entire braking system actually works.