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NJ Transit OKs 10% Fare Increase

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By David A. Michaels, Staff Writer, North Jersey Media Group, The Record

Published: May 3, 2007

 

NJ Transit approved a fare increase of about 10 percent for most bus and rail trips on Wednesday, a boost that could become more regular in the future, officials said.

 

It will take effect June 1.

 

One board member voted for the increase, then blistered the state Legislature for not finding more money for public transportation. Some advocates have pressed for a dedicated source of funding, such as higher gas taxes or a special sales tax, instead of passing the agency's growing costs to riders.

 

"We don't have a Legislature that has the courage to enact an increased gas tax that would help provide the source of ongoing funding," said board member Kenneth E. Pringle. "The people we are going to raise the fares on today are people who are doing the right thing."

 

Pringle, who also serves as mayor of Belmar, said the increase could not be avoided this year. He said riders should pay their fair share, but insisted they should not be expected to fund new services that might not benefit many of them.

 

"We are asking our passengers to subsidize the expansion of our service and provision of services in new areas that frequently can't be justified by the amount of fares that we are going to recover," he said.

 

Pringle later questioned two ongoing projects, the Passaic-Bergen and Northern Branch rail services, that would likely incur large deficits for NJ Transit.

 

John S. Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said Pringle's criticism was warranted, although the lawmaker said state funding would not come from the gas tax, which is among the lowest in the nation.

 

"We need to deliver that public good by providing an appropriate level of subsidy," Wisniewski said. "We have not done that, which has forced Transit to go to the fare box three times in the past five years."

 

Many riders who wrote the agency or attended public hearings were not very forgiving of NJ Transit's financial situation. The agency also raised fares in 2002 and 2005, after avoiding fare increases throughout the 1990s

 

Armando Rodriguez, a commuter from Dumont, said the Pascack Valley line's service does not justify a fare increase. The line does not have midday or weekend service, and many stations have limited parking that is available only for local residents.

 

"You deal with the inconvenience of standing-room only, and then they hit you with an increase without really improving the service," said Rodriguez, who works near Wall Street.

 

Some advocates pressed the agency to keep fares stable for local bus passengers, some of whom rely on public transportation to get to work. NJ Transit officials said they could not afford to protect bus riders from fare increases, as they did two years ago.

 

"It's getting expensive," said Dina Price of Little Ferry, whose monthly bus pass would increase by $7. "I have to use the bus system because I don't have a car."

 

Pringle suggested that it was time to debate how to spread that burden across the state. He said the state has put off the need to reconcile its revenues, a point that has been made by lawmakers as well.

 

"Our citizens like to be lied to about what things cost, and unfortunately our Legislature plays along," Pringle said. It "basically feeds this myth that you get something for nothing. Unfortunately with our budget, we are not in a position to do that."

 

By the numbers

 

NJ Transit approved an average fare increase of 9.6 percent that will take effect June 1. The new policy means:

 

* One-zone, local bus fares would increase 8 percent, from $1.25 to $1.35.

 

* Monthly bus and rail passes would increase about 10 percent.

 

* Peak-hour fares will begin at 7 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m., extending the discounted off-peak rate to 16 trains.

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