Don’t expect NJ Transit to discount or refund money over rail mess
NEWARK — Monday begins a new month and some angry NJ Transit commuters are planning a silent protest by way of their pocketbooks. At least they say they are.
Leaflets left on trains encouraged riders to "use your April pass for the month of May" as part of a #NoPayMay campaign following a month of misery on the rail with delayed trains, derailments and overcrowding.
But don't look to NJ Transit for a free ride or discount in May. During a legislative oversight hearing at the Statehouse on Friday, executive director Steve Santoro said that he understands that customers are frustrated. Asked by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Somerset, about offering refunds to riders for the "April mess," Santoro said the question is "complex due to the fiscal impacts."
"Customers are paying fares, fares are being subsidized by the taxpayers of New Jersey, so all those elements affect any decision that's going to be made or discussed."
Zwicker, who said he has heard from many frustrated riders and indirectly touched on the "Don't Pay In May" campaign, told Santoto it might be a good public relations move to "show our constituents and your riders that you really are thinking about them and their livelihoods."
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One daily rider of NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line into New York said that while the "don't pay" idea sounded like a good idea, "I am afraid I cannot afford to participate in any protests or in anything that could be interpreted as an attempt to break the law because of my job, which I love very much."
Alex Rivera, of Guttenberg, is another commuter who will not participate. The NJ Transit bus rider said he already received his May pass, and says service is as bad as it's been for 15 years.
"I'm actually moving to Harrison on Monday to completely cut NJ Transit out of my commute," rider Vegas said, who added that he can now take PATH in and out of New York. "Saves me $300 and a countless amount of headaches per month."
Michael Phelan, co-founder of the New Jersey Commuters Action Network, said his group "doesn't support any of the boycotts or refund demands making the rounds on social media, but we feel that commuters and taxpayers need to see our governor take accountability for the agency and present a cogent bi-partisan plan to change its senior leaders in the coming weeks."
Amtrak announced a summer-long project that will start in May in order to speed up some work that was already scheduled to take place over several years. The work is expected to last from May to September. Most of the work will take place on weekends but some will take place on weekdays, which will require track closures.
During the legislative hearing, Santoro said he had only received Amtrak's plan as the announcement was being made on Thursday and will assess them over the weekend in order to formulate NJ Transit's response. He later said that the possibility exists that NJ Transit could go on a reduced holiday or weekend schedule while the work goes on.
Amtrack CEO Wick Moorman did not know which specific tracks and platforms will be closed, or when. During a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, he said he understands that anything done in Penn Station has an impact on commuters.
Ironically, NJ Transit may indirectly be participating in a form of the "No Pay May" movement after Gov. Chris Christie ordered NJ Transit to withhold its monthly payment to Amtrak following several days of delays in April.
During the April edition of "Ask the Governor" on New Jersey 101.5, the governor said, “I don’t want to be in a circumstance where I’m withholding payments. I understand that that’s a very, very aggressive maneuver. But I need to get their attention. I will tell you, I believe we’ve now gotten their attention.”
Christie added that no decision had been made about May's payment.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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