TRENTON, N.J. — Bus and rail commuters will be digging deeper to ride NJ Transit.
James Weinstein, the transit agency's new executive director, announced Friday that he'll seek approval from NJ Transit's board to increase fares by 25 percent systemwide and trim service proportionate to recent ridership declines.
The changes are part of NJ Transit's latest plan to offset a $300 million budget shortfall. The agency also had its state subsidy cut by 11 percent – a drop of about $33 million. Ridership is down 4 percent from last year.
Covering a service area of more than 5,000 square miles, NJ Transit is the nation's third-largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit.
The plan calls for most of the changes to take effect May 1, and NJ Transit expects the moves will generate more than $140 million in revenue. NJ Transit last raised fares in 2007, hiking them about 9 percent.
"We recognize that any increase is a burden for our customers, particularly during a recession," Weinstein said. "However, we have worked to keep local bus fares below the regional average and preserved some important discounts for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as for students and others who are among the most transit dependent."
NJ Transit plans to eliminate 32 of 725 commuter trains, with at least two trains scheduled for elimination on each of its 11 lines.
Weinstein said a few lines will see a handful of trains cut, mostly those that have the greatest service frequency – such as the Northeast Corridor, where five weekday trains will be cut. Meanwhile, the Morris and Essex lines would be reduced by seven trains on weekdays, partly because ridership to Hoboken has declined faster than ridership to New York.
Bus and light rail customers will also be affected by service reductions.
Weinstein said service would be cut on about 50 bus routes, with arrival times growing by a range of five to 20 minutes in most cases. Three bus routes operated by NJ Transit will be discontinued, as will several local routes operated by private carriers. The Wheels minibus service also will be discontinued in all 21 counties.
Light rail customers will see service frequency reductions.
Weinstein said intervals between late-night trains on the Hudson-Bergen line would extend from 20 to 30 minutes on weekdays, and redundant weekend service on that line from Tonnelle Avenue to the Hoboken branch would be eliminated.
"Our service plan is designed to size our service to match ridership demand," Weinstein said. "We also looked at where we could squeeze out the most costs while impacting as few customers as possible."
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a passenger advocacy group, blasted the agency's plan, saying it will have "a devastating effect" on transit riders. The group also blasted Gov. Chris Christie for cutting the agency's subsidy and "underfunding" mass transit.
"(NJ Transit's plan) will force people to pay more for less service and mean longer commutes and more crowded buses and trains," said Zoe Baldwin, the New Jersey advocate for the nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing car dependency in the Garden State, New York and Connecticut.
"Raising fees on transit riders while avoiding raising fees on car or truck drivers is an unbalanced and inequitable way to fund our transportation network," Baldwin said. "These cuts drive economic and environmental progress backward by forcing more people to drive and creating increased hardship for those without cars who have no transportation alternatives."
NJ Transit plans to hold a series of public hearings on the plan later this month, with sessions across the state.
"I look forward to hearing the feedback personally from our customers at the public hearings because we need to understand the on-the-ground impacts for folks, not just how this works on paper," Weinstein said.