Three Republican legislators called for New Jersey Transit to improve communications with riders in light of a spate of train cancellations for reasons including a lack of engineers.
Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-21st District; Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, R-25th District; and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-21st District, held a press conference Wednesday at the State House to demand NJ Transit provide better information about cancellations of trains and routes.
The presser comes after weeks of trains and routes being cancelled due to the installation of positive train control technology and a lack of engineers, and one day before joint legislative hearings on NJ Transit’s recent woes.
“We recognize the riders are most important and we need to get to work on this,” Bucco said. “We have seen a complete lack of planning by New Jersey Transit so far. It is disturbing that most of these issues should have been foreseen. New Jersey Transit recognizes they are dealing with a lack of staffing. It is their responsibility to make alternate arrangements. The last thing a commuter wants is to be standing on the platform and not be able to get to work or school.”
NJ Transit is installing positive train control technology, which will use computers and sensors to stop a train if an operator doesn’t. The deadline to complete installation is Dec. 31. Amtrak has said it will not let NJ Transit trains run on its train lines if it does not meet the deadline.
“We need a plan as to how they are going to address that issue,” Bucco said. “This entire problem is about communication and planning.”
Munoz said she cannot allow paying customers to be notified on the platform that their trains have been cancelled.
“There was a woman who boarded last week who waited two and a half hours for her train to arrive,” Munoz said. “That is unacceptable. We are hearing from the press that engineers are calling off of work five minutes before their shifts begin.”
“Starting this week Route 495 is facing major construction,” she added. “We need to be able to depend on mass transit. Our constituents are angry. This has been a problem for decades.”
Bucco maintained he and his fellow Republican lawmakers were not silent in holding NJ Transit accountable during the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie from 2010 to 2018.
“I think a lot of New Jersey Transit’s problems have been bureaucracy,” Bucco said. “This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. Last year when we were told it was going to be the Summer of Hell, [New Jersey Transit] brought in buses and alternate transportation. They planned for that disruption.”
The three Republicans said they did not hold the press conference in advance of the hearing in a show of partisan politics.
“It is important for the opposition party to raise issues that the Democratic Party is not raising,” Bramnick said. “The voice of the opposition is not necessarily the evil empire. I want commuters to know which trains will be cancelled in advance.”
Bucco gave a similar response.
“If you want to look at prior budgets and administrations, you can find issues,” Bucco said. “You cannot pick and choose where you want to point. I think people do not care about the finger-pointing. It is easy when you are in charge to say this is the fault of the other guys. … I sat on the budget committee. I talk with people who make decisions every day. If I reacted to the press and not the people who led the programs, then shame on me.”