A long-delayed audit of NJ Transit system was finally released to the public this week and the findings should come as no surprise to anyone. In short, the system is a mess. Governor Murphy himself has labeled the organization a “national disgrace”.
Without mincing words, the report concludes:
“NJ Transit has no strategic plan, no retention program, no knowledge management program, and no succession plans. The organization has an overly complex organizational structure matched by equally as complex business processes. The organizational culture reflects ‘buck-passing’ and siloed behaviors, low employee morale, and ill-defined roles, authorities, and accountabilities.”
Even in this political environment, where passing the buck and pointing across the aisle is now the norm, the failures of the NJ Transit system have a far-reaching impact that any NJ politician would be wise to prioritize. NJ Transit is the country’s 3rd largest transit network, servicing an area of over 5,325 square miles and a daily ridership of nearly 1 million people. It’s the state’s lifeline to both NYC and Philadelphia and a key contributing factor to the economic viability of New Jersey itself.
So how, then, has it gotten so bad?
Aside from servicing the busiest rail corridor in the US, the system has seen a reduction of more than 90 percent in State subsidies since 2010 while at the same time, a 23% increase in ridership from 2002 to 2017. This massive reduction in funding has “resulted in significant fare increases, minimal capital investment, mechanical failures, safety concerns, and overall customer dissatisfaction,” according to the report.
The safety concerns stemming from financial cuts are one of the system’s more harrowing problems.
After a September 2016 train crash in Hoboken that killed a woman and injured more than 100 people, an Associated Press review found NJ Transit had more accidents and paid more in fines for safety violations than any other commuter railroad in the country over the previous five years.
In an article last year, Bloomberg compiled a list of thousands of “tales of torment” from NJ Transit riders and as entertaining as some of these tales are…
“One Friday morning in May, passengers on a Manhattan-bound bus spotted their driver nodding off and drifting across lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike. To keep him alert, they plied him with mints and gum.”
“A pedestrian asked New Jersey Transit whether a bus driver was ‘flirting or just being funny’ when he almost struck her in a Newark intersection.”
“I’m outside the door nearly in tears BEGGING to be let on,” a rider complained. “She just rolled off, nearly taking my feet with her.”
“I carry a dust mask in my bag, wear shoes I can run in. This isn’t even being paranoid; it is reality. I seriously fear that something will happen to me.”
… it’s really no laughing matter.
While no concrete plan is in place to reverse the system’s decline, the audit is a decent first step in better understanding the problems. In response to the audit, Governor Murphy assured riders that he will do what he can to improve the system. “We are not going to let this audit collect dust,” he promised.
If you have some free time and want a good chuckle, you can read the full 179-page report here.