NJ Transit fares remain stable for a fifth year. But Murphy won’t explain the math yet.

Published: Feb. 28, 2022

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that NJTransit fares will not increase, marking the fifth year that riders will be spared from a hike. But the math behind the magic won’t be known until next week.

Murphy made the announcement Monday morning during an event at the Glen Ridge train station a week before he unveils the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget. The last fare increase was in 2015.

“That is something five years ago folks would have said that’s impossible, but we’re doing it,” the governor said. “We’re plowing investment into NJ Transit to make it more reliable to make it safer, and make it a better customer and commuter experience.”

Details of how fares will be kept flat will be revealed during the budget message, scheduled to be delivered March 8, Murphy said.

One hint for riders is that the FY2023 budget funds installing wi-fi onboard buses, he said. Roughly two-thirds of NJ Transit passengers ride buses.

“I won’t make any news on the budget today and there will be an enormous amount of detail we’ll be happy to get into (on March 8),” Murphy said. “We are committed to make sure NJ Transit is funded to the absolute maximum it can be level it needs to be,” Murphy said.

“We made enormous progress in the first four budgets and we’ll continue to do so in this one,” he said, citing improvements in on-time performance and reducing canceled trains and $4 billion worth of infrastructure projects underway.

Advocates welcomed news of stable fares, but questioned how long NJ Transit will be able to continue it without dedicated funding from the state.

“No fare hikes is welcome news, especially with inflation, people are feeling the cost of everything going up,” said Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign deputy director. “To have fares stable is very helpful, especially for transit-dependent riders.”

The recipe for stable fares will likely include funding sources used in the past - federal coronavirus aid granted to transit systems nationwide, New Jersey Turnpike Authority revenues, federal Clean Energy funds and shifting money from the agency capital to the operating budget.

“We’re able to do this because of the federal (COVID) emergency money, thanks to efforts of our congressional delegation who made sure we’d have enough money,” Chernetz said. “When the emergency funding runs out, we’ll still have the problem that we had before and Gov. Murphy alluded to that.”

NJ Transit received a total of $4.406 billion from three federal coronavirus aid packages for transit systems around the country to make up for lost revenue after ridership was lost due to the pandemic travel restrictions and work from home orders in 2020.

NJ Transit used the $1.4 billion from the CARES act to pay for full service and to keep workers employed over the course of three years, spending the last of those funds in fiscal year 2022, according to NJ Transit financial reports. The agency still has roughly $2.5 billion from CRRSA and the ARP acts that is funding operations.

Missing is a dedicated state funding source instead of relying on the annual budget process. Murphy did name check the issue, but stopped short of offering a solution.

“I’m always open to a dedicated source of funding, but the bigger point is we’re dedicated to fixing NJ Transit,” the governor said. “This budget take huge steps toward that without raising fares.”

Last April, a landmark agreement was unanimously approved to send $3.57 billion over the next seven years from the NJ Turnpike Authority to NJ Transit to help cover its operating costs.

Under a previous five-year agreement approved in 2016, the authority sent a total of $616 million to NJ Transit for its operating budget.

That changed on July 1, when the Turnpike paid NJ Transit a total of $350 million in fiscal year 2022. The authority is scheduled to pay $746 million in fiscal year 2023; $465 million in fiscal year 2024; $480 million in fiscal year 2025; $495 million in fiscal year 2026; $510 million in fiscal year 2027 and $525 million in fiscal year 2028.

Deducted from the quarterly payments will be how much NJ Transit would have owed the authority in tolls. Under projected budgets sent to the state from NJ Transit in 2021, the turnpike money will increase as state general fund subsidies to NJ Transit declines.

State Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierez-Scaccetti defended the authority funding because it improves the transit system, prompts more people to use it and reduces car traffic, to allow more trucks to use the toll highways to deliver goods.

NJ Transit’s board of directors approved a $2.64 billion fiscal year 2022 operating budget on Feb. 9 that also included a $360 million transfer of capital funds to the operating budget. That budget carries the agency to June 30, 2022.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-01 02:31:30 -0800