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NJTransit Audit Results

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PDF here: https://www.nj.gov/governor/docs/20181005NJTransitFinalReport.pdf





5 Ways N.J. Transit Is Failing Commuters

By Patrick McGeehan

Oct. 9, 2018


When Philip D. Murphy became the governor of New Jersey this year, he quickly targeted one of the state’s most aggravating problems — its woeful transit system. He ordered an audit of the system, New Jersey Transit, to pinpoint its problems and suggest solutions.

On Tuesday, Mr. Murphy released the long-awaited report, some of which confirmed what many riders already know — there are not enough engineers to run the trains, a lack of spare parts contributes to disruptions, and the agency does a dismal job of telling passengers why their commute has unraveled.

The agency’s new leadership has held off making some big changes while waiting for the results of the audit, which took several months longer than expected to complete. But the leaders have indicated that the agency needs to be overhauled from the top down, with a more streamlined management, updated technology and a better process for hiring workers.

“This audit is what will allow us to rebuild New Jersey Transit and restore faith in its operations,” Mr. Murphy said at a news conference at a New Jersey Transit train station.

Here are five problems the agency faces and proposals for how to fix them:

New Jersey Transit lurches from crisis to crisis

From one annual state budget to the next, New Jersey Transit leaders never knew where they would get enough money to run their existing service, much less make investments for the future.

Mr. Murphy has pledged to provide a significant increase in funding, but in his first year, the agency continued a much-criticized practice of shifting money from its capital budget to pay for its day-to-day operations. (On Tuesday, Mr. Murphy reiterated his pledge that there would be no fare increases before mid-2019.)

“Today, N.J. Transit is facing the unintended long-term consequences of these actions, which have only increased over time as subsidies continued to erode — a deterioration of its assets, continued schedule and safety problems, and a disillusioned ridership,” the report, conducted by the consulting firm North Highland, concluded.

The consultants recommended creating an office to develop a vision for the agency’s future and a plan for managing its assets, which have shrunk by $1.5 billion in the last eight years.

In short, they advised, “Run N.J. Transit more like a business and less as a state agency.”

Employees have been abandoning ship

New Jersey Transit has been losing key employees, some to competing transit agencies in the New York region, and has been having trouble replacing them. The hiring process is also hobbled by out-of-date practices. For many positions, the agency relies on paper applications and pencil-and-paper tests.

“Antiquated processes,’’ the report said, “create a major bottleneck to hiring the right people at the right time.”

The shortage of employees has been most profound among engineers. This summer, New Jersey Transit did not have enough engineers to drive its trains on most days, forcing many cancellations.

Kevin Corbett, the agency’s executive director, is trying to speed up hiring by doubling the number of training classes each year and by inviting its conductors to train to become engineers. Conductors can complete the training in 12 months, compared with 20 months for new hires.

Some employees, including engineers, have left for New York’s Metro-North Railroad and other agencies that pay more than New Jersey Transit.

The consultants recommended modernizing and streamlining the recruitment and hiring processes so that more qualified candidates could be identified and jobs could be filled faster. They also suggested finding ways to pay more competitive salaries.

The system is running out of spare parts

The consultants said New Jersey Transit’s system for managing its inventory, like spare parts for trains and buses, “does not seem to be functioning properly.”

The agency frequently runs out of 15 to 30 percent of the items it needs to maintain its equipment, which ”increases the time that crews keep cars and busses out of service.” And it can take the agency 450 days to complete large purchases.

The approach to managing equipment has been mostly reactive, with the agency dealing with problems as they occur rather than trying to preventing them.

“If N.J. Transit continues to operate in this way,’’ the report said, its equipment “will continue to degrade without the ability to determine, how, when and where a critical failure will occur.”

The consultants recommended overhauling the way the agency tracks its assets and purchases new equipment. They also suggested that the agency hire its own general counsel so that it would not need to rely on the office of the state attorney general to complete so many of its larger contracts.

The agency does a poor job of delivering bad news

The agency is so focused on trying to run its trains and buses safely and efficiently that “customers often come as an afterthought,” the report said.

When they do receive information about delays and their causes, it is often inconsistent, the report said. Some information about changes is posted to social media platforms before it is shared internally, leaving conductors and bus drivers unprepared to answer questions from riders, it said.

“We know we have to communicate better,” Mr. Corbett said. He said that the agency had created a “war room” for managing communications with customers and that “information is now being sent out to customers quickly and more accurately.”

The consultants suggested that the agency use social media to try to turn around negative impressions of its performance.

“More could be done by N.J. Transit to put a more positive foot forward, rather than defending itself,” the report said. Posting photos and other entertaining content “creates a positive brand image and uplifting conversation.”

But it warned that those postings should be confined to non-rush hours, when customers are less likely to be in bad moods. “During rush hours when traffic or services are more strained customers will be more likely to lash out if they see N.J. Transit posting on Facebook,” the report said.Likewise, the report described Twitter as a forum that can contain “a lot of vitriol.” It advised against wishing customers a good night because “this is guaranteed to rile customers who aren’t having a pleasant commute.”

There isn’t enough money for a major face-lift

New Jersey Transit’s costs have risen by 30 percent in the past decade while the agency’s funding from the state declined.

“Continued funding decreases will bring N.J. Transit’s viability as a primary mode of transportation in the state into question,” the report said.

Riders already bear a higher share — 43 percent — of the costs of the operations than in other comparable transit systems, it found. The consultants did not recommend ways of solving the agency’s financial problems, but suggested alternatives to fare increases.

Among the ideas the report discussed were finding new sources of revenue, such as the development of real estate around New Jersey Transit train stations and other properties; selling more advertising around its stations; and proposing taxes or fees on ride-hailing apps, like Uber, that could generate funds for transit.

“It is evident N.J. Transit cannot continue to operate under its present financial model,” the report concluded.



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