NJ Transit faulted for spending long-term project funds on day-to-day operations
A new report finds unlike other major mass transportation agencies in the region, NJ Transit is using a significant amount of capital funding money from the feds to maintain its day-to-day operations, even though the money is intended for long-term improvement projects.
The Bloomberg report says since 1990, NJ Transit has used $7.57 billion in capital funding from the U. S. government for its present day needs, while agencies like Long Island and Metro North railroads do not do this and the practice was discontinued in Philadelphia after critics complained it was siphoning off money that had been earmarked for other major projects.
“The trend is disturbing but not surprising, because NJ Transit has been doing this for at least a decade,” said state Sen. Bob Gordon, the chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight committee, which has been holding hearings on NJ Transit for months.
He said with this kind of approach, “we’re obviously not spending money on new facilities, on replacing the buses and the rail cars as much as we should be.”
The result, said Gordon, is “we don’t have enough rail cars for a given line because some are in repair shop, which means more people are standing.”
He noted that can put rail riders at greater risk, because they’re more apt to be thrown around in the event of an accident or derailment.
Gordon said allocating funds in this way ultimately has a negative impact on performance.
“New Jersey Transit used to be winning awards in the '90s for quality service, and now has the worst on time and safety record of any mass transit system in the country.”
NJ Transit spokesperson Nancy Snyder declined to answer questions about whether it was wise for the agency to be spending federal capital investment money on day-to-day operations.
But Snyder did point out that “federal regulations have for many years allowed transit agencies such as ours to use capital funding for all eligible capital maintenance projects.”
She pointed out, “Included in that is the installing and repairing of engines, transmissions, wheel assemblies and associated components.”
“These maintenance efforts keep our buses, our trains, our light rail vehicles all in a state of good repair, and extend the useful life of our long-term assets.”
She added over the past decade, NJ Transit’s state and federal capital to operating transfer has averaged about 23 to 23 percent of the budget, but “in fiscal year 18 it is below the long term average at 22.8 percent.”
Gordon said the root of the problem for the decline of NJ Transit is the agency does not have a stable funding source.
“What we need is a long term source of financing for New Jersey Transit, like every other major system in the country has, I don’t know right now what that is,” he said.
When pressed on what this long term source of financing could be, Gordon said he’s not talking about constantly raising fares.
“I think it’s going to require some creativity, there are a number of things we might consider, we have an awful lot of property that New Jersey Transit and the state owns. We could sell the air rights over some of these properties,” he said.
Gordon pointed out the Secaucus Junction train station was constructed in such a way to allow a structure to be built on top of it.
“Can you imagine what kind of views you would get from a 15th floor condominium above that location? Some developer would probably pay a lot of money for the right to develop something above that facility. Things like that could be a source of long term financing,” he said.
He pointed out most other big mass transit systems have a reliable funding source.
“So they know that over the next five years they’re going to be getting X amount of money, and so they can plan for capital investments and purchasing new equipment, and there’s some certainty.”
“When you rely on the annual appropriations process (like NJ Transit does) there’s no certainty, so there’s no way to effectively plan for the future.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com