Gov. Phil Murphy is calling for more open communication between New Jersey Transit and its commuters following nearly two weeks of delays, cancellations, staffing shortages and equipment failures.
Murphy, at a press event Thursday at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark, said he “underestimated” the scope of issues he’d need to address in order to make improvements on the statewide agency.
The governor, who this week returned from a family vacation in Italy, also said the agency will ramp up bus availability at the Atlantic City corridor and institute a 25 percent discount for riders to make up for the monthslong shutdown of the Atlantic City rail line, while the agency installs positive train control on that route.
NJ Transit also is doing away with the one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Line to New York Penn Station, meaning commuters will have to transfer in Newark.
Federal officials are giving NJ Transit until midnight Dec. 31 to install PTC, the federally mandated emergency braking system technology.
Murphy’s press conference follows NJ Transit’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, at which commuters unloaded their transit woes and frustrations.
“I don’t blame the commuters one bit for their anger and cynicism,” said Murphy, who was flanked by New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett. “The commuter is on the pedestal here and they have every right to be upset.”
As for the agency’s communication strategy, Murphy said NJ Transit would roll out “aggressive communication as fast as possible, as fast as we have information, as regularly as we can post it.”
“These preplanned changes in services related to the installation of PTC haven’t been adequately communicated to the public,” Murphy said. “Commuters cannot be expected to read a press release that was put out months ago on a one-time only basis and expect to remember that come August you’re going to have a change to your service.”
The changes, Murphy added, will be “clearly posted” in every affected station, where commuters will be able to see them every day until the service disruptions end.”
The governor also lambasted statements by GOP lawmakers such as Assembly Speaker Jon Bramnick, R-21st District, who has called for “daily press conferences” from Murphy on the matter.
“The hypocrisy of our friends on the other side of the aisle who have now chosen this moment in time to speak up is jaw-dropping after they sat on their hands for eight years and saw this organization ravished,” Murphy said, adding, “We’re climbing out of a deep hole after eight years of failure by the Christie administration.”
Following the press conference, Bramnick lashed back at Murphy.
“New Jerseyans are tough, fair-minded people but they need information every morning to plan their day," he said in a statement. "Commuters have not received that information as to the status of trains and train delays. Blaming Chris Christie seven months into the new governor’s term does not provide the needed information for our commuters.”
Over the past two weeks, there have been days where as many as 20 trains were cancelled, as engineers called off at the last minute with no replacements in tow.
“The union leadership sent out a notice to their rank and file,” Corbett responded.
And Gutierrez-Scaccetti added that the state might press the unions to address specific, chronic members.
“There is a disciplinary process that we follow, and we intend to make sure that it is followed properly,” she added.