NJT riders face massive fare hikes, advocates warn
🎫 NJT is holding fares steady for the eighth year in a row
💲 COVID relief money will be depleted by 2025
🚉 A huge budget shortfall could trigger massive fare hikes
Transit advocates are warning of big fare hikes coming for New Jersey Transit as the agency faces a looming budget deficit in 2025.
Fares are not rising this year, the eighth year in a row that riders were not asked to pay more for bus and rail fares.
NJT is spending the last of its federal COVID relief money that was designed to supplement revenue lost due to a decline in ridership.
As pandemic restrictions were lifted, ridership did rebound, but many workers remain on a remote or hybrid schedule.
NJT President & CEO Kevin Corbett told board members last week that overall weekday rail ridership is fluctuating between approximately 55 to 75 percent of pre-COVID levels. Overall bus ridership systemwide is holding steady, Corbett says, at approximately 80 percent of pre-COVID levels.
Despite the fluctuations in ridership, and fare collections, NJT was able to keep fare steady this year thanks to the influx of federal relief money.
However, a four year budget forecast delivered to Gov. Phil Murphy warns when the COVID money runs out, NJT will be facing a potential funding need of $119.4 million. That number grows to $957 million in just two years.
The figures were first reported by NJ.com, which noted the future budget problems forecast for New Jersey Transit are not unique. Public transit agencies across the U.S. are dealing with similar issues as they deplete federal relief money.
How to avoid fare hikes
Budget forecasts included in the report to Murphy assumes state funding would remain flat during the four year period examined. That could be a big assumption.
New Jersey as a whole will face some tough decisions in future budget years as treasury officials adjust to the depletion of federal relief money.
To avoid potential large fare hikes and/or a reduction in service, lawmakers are being urged to change the way the state funds NJT.
Currently there is no true 'dedicated' funding mechanism in place. Each year, how much money NJT gets from the state is debated as a separate line-item in the overall state budget.
Even though Gov. Murphy has created a 'memorandum of understanding' that sends $3.7 billion to NJT through 2028, future governors could alter or rescind that deal.
Transit advocates are urging the legislature to create a true sustainable and dedicated funding source before 2025 to avoid the need for massive fare hikes or service cuts.
Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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