Riders to have say in NJ Transit operations
TRENTON — As Gov. Phil Murphy was touting NJ Transit meeting a deadline for installing the Positive Train Control system, lawmakers were working on reforms that will give commuters a greater voice in how the agency is run.
The reforms come after 15 months of debate and investigation by lawmakers following a fatal train crash in Hoboken, and should make it easier for the public to learn what is going on at the dysfunctional agency, plus give actual bus and train riders a say in how NJ Transit is run.
The current, eight-member board of directors will be increased to 13 members and will include a real bus and train rider. The new position of customer advocate will also be created to interact with commuters directly, and bring those concerns to the board.
If Murphy signs these measures into law, the new board will have to vote on any fare increases or significant service changes. The public would also be invited into board meetings, and the reforms would require at least half of their meetings to be held in the evenings to accommodate commuter schedules.
What the reforms fail to address, however, are working conditions and morale within the rank-and-file workforce. I’ve spoken to a number of veteran engineers and conductors who say until working conditions improve, customers will never get the level of service they deserve. One conductor who has been on the job for almost 30 years told me morale is the worst he has ever seen it.
And it’s not about money. Not entirely, anyway.
Multiple workers say they would like a new contract, and are frustrated with the lack of progress with the Murphy administration, but what they really want is respect. Engineers are often called in to work on their off-days due to understaffing. They claim they are subjected to constant harassment by management if they resist that call. Conductors often bear the brunt of commuters’ anger (and sometimes violence), they say, due to mismanagement.
Lawmakers say they have addressed these concerns with the creation of a new ethics officer and whistleblower program. NJ Transit would also be able to hire some out-of-state residents as conductors, engineers, and machinists.
Rank-and-file workers welcomed those reforms, but they tell me what they really wanted was a voice on how the agency was run. Having actual commuters on the new board of directors is great, they say, but who will speak for them? Having an actual conductor or engineer on the board would at least give the board a perspective from those who have to carry out the board’s directives.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a monthly Town Hall series.
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