It’s vital to get New Jersey Transit back on track

Chip Hallock of the Newark Regional Business Partnership.

The importance of New Jersey Transit to our state’s economic vitality cannot be overstated. All New Jersey residents and visitors benefit from a vital mass transit system that keeps additional cars off the roads, contributing to lower congestion, less roadway wear and tear and cleaner air. Hundreds of thousands of commuters each day rely upon trains and buses to get them to jobs in our region that provide for their families, generate state tax revenue and spur economic development.

With Newark’s commercial and residential revitalization well underway and the Meadowlands catapulting further as an entertainment destination, NJT must be restored to its one-time leadership as a national model.

For too long, NJT’s contribution to our quality of life has been taken for granted as successive Legislatures and administrations deprived the agency of adequate financial and human resources that led to a downward spiral. The comeback story will take a while to be finished, but we’re glad that the turnaround effort spurred by Gov. Phil Murphy has begun.

There has been extensive coverage of NJT’s “catch-up” efforts to meet deadlines for positive train control — a federally mandated and essential safety system that monitors and controls train movements. Great progress has been made in the past year, but PTC implementation involves considerably more equipment modification and testing before being fully operational.

Service disruptions will persist in the interim, which are aggravated by NJT’s shortage of engineers — another result of scarce resources that caused the loss to other railroads of experienced engineers and inadequate attraction of new talent. This, too, is being addressed by NJT leadership through recruitment and training efforts that will restore a full team of engineers over the next several years.

Meadowlands Regional Chamber
Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber.

For those passengers on buses and trains who have been stuck (sometimes literally) in equipment that has far surpassed its optimal period of service, the encouraging news is that orders are in for 85 new articulated buses and 113 multilevel rail commuter cars. Unfortunately, NJT can’t order such equipment online and have Amazon deliver it to the door tomorrow — that, too, will take years.

Not all improvements need to take that long. Understanding from its outreach that passenger communication is key, NJT is working to improve its messaging to riders so they can plan better for service disruptions and schedule changes.  Recent legislation approved by the Assembly and Senate and signed by the governor is designed to enhance transparency leading to a more responsive agency.

There is no doubt that NJT’s professional leadership is committed to continuing improvement while passengers will need to have continued patience as years of deferred investment are addressed.

With state budget hearings and negotiations on the way, our elected leaders must recognize that NJT should never again be deprived of the resources it needs to serve the citizens of our great state who have experienced the effects of that disinvestment.

Transparency, accountability, long-term planning and consistently sufficient funding will restore NJT’s service, credibility and heritage.

Whether you’re a Newark resident navigating the city by bus, a New Jerseyan on the way to work, a traveler on the Northeast Corridor or a visitor to the coming American Dream, help cannot come fast enough — but it is on the way.

Chip Hallock is CEO and president of the Newark Regional Business Partnership and Jim Kirkos is CEO and president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber and Meadowlands Liberty CVB.