Gov. Phil Murphy vowed Tuesday to improve the reliability of New Jersey Transit’s train and bus schedules after getting the results of a system audit he commissioned earlier this year.
“Each of you knew there were shortcomings in how New Jersey Transit worked,” Murphy said during a press conference at the train station in Metuchen. “We watched as it was racked by politics and virtually defunded. … We knew New Jersey Transit needed new leadership and we did that with the appointment of [New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett]. … We negotiated to avert a potential fare hike through next June 30. But we knew we needed to do more than pop the hood and change the spark plugs.”
He called for streamlining the organizational structure, better recruitment practices, enhancing the procurement structure and improving communications.
“The audit recommends a streamlined leadership structure so customers know their concerns will not fall into a black hole,” Murphy said. “The audit recommends processes to move from reacting to crises to being proactive. … The audit found weaknesses in the procurement process.”
“We are not going to let this audit collect dust,” he continued. “I took New Jersey Transit this morning. Commuters and engineers say they believe in NJ Transit. I believe as we implement the recommendations of this audit we will see real improvements.”
Murphy ordered the audit Jan. 22, about one week after taking office. His administration inked a $1.3 million contract with the Atlanta-based consulting firm North Highland Co.
Laura Kane lives in Metuchen with her husband and children and commutes on NJ Transit to Manhattan. She asked for better service.
“On bad days, my inbox is filled with New Jersey Transit alerts,” she said. “Last week on Thursday evening it took me over three hours to get home. Yesterday morning I pushed my meeting back one hour. A delayed or cancelled train is an inconvenience for everyone in our village. The ripple effects of disruption are far and wide.”
“As a rider for many years, I have seen a downward trend in reliability,” Kane said.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti apologized to Kane as a mother to a mother.
“The report validates our observations from the last nine months,” she said. “This report is our way to start new. We look at the fact that New Jersey Transit lacks a strategic plan. We will develop a strategic plan with the leadership. New Jersey Transit runs a successful bus operation and will be brought through the same upgrade.”
There has been no discussion of layoffs, she said.
Corbett said this report will serve as a “roadmap” to change.
“We have not been sitting idle to make organizational improvements,” Corbett said. “We have worked with North Highland. We began making changes months ago.”
NJ Transit has been working with a consultant to train engineers in 12 months instead of 20 months.
“This change will bear fruit one year from now,” Corbett said. “We are hiring bus drivers and giving a $6,000 sign-on bonus. … This report talks about [fixing the] human resources and procurement departments.”
Corbett vowed to meet the federally mandated deadline of Dec. 31 to install positive train control.
“The assessment has given us a roadmap and with continued guidance from customers we will have a New Jersey Transit they can be proud of,” Corbett said.
New Jersey Transit cancelled several routes this year and has cancelled trains without notice due to a shortage of engineers that has frustrated customers and caused them to find alternative transportation.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, is among those who sponsored NJ Transit reform legislation that has passed the Senate and is awaiting Assembly action.
"The Governor's NJ Transit audit underscores the urgent need for major structural changes at NJ Transit, starting with the creation of a stronger board of directors that is both representative of and responsive to the needs and interests of commuters," Weinberg said in a statement. "We need to set strict requirements for public hearings for both schedule changes and fare increases, and ensure that more NJ Transit board meetings are held in the evening when commuters can attend."