Another round of NJ Transit fare hikes coming: riders to pay ‘tunnel charge’

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — NJ Transit riders will foot the $1.9 billion price tag to build a new rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York.

There will be an added fee every time commuters cross the Hudson River. Beginning in 2020, a charge of 90 cents will be tacked on to train fares. That fee will incrementally rise to $1.70 in 2028 and $2.20 in 2038. Some commuters will then pay $30 or more for a round trip ticket to New York City.

"You [know] what I think is going to end up happening? More people are just gonna drive,” Prudence Soobrattie said as she waited for the train to New York with her children in Montclair. “I mean, to be honest, if it were that expensive we would probably take our car in.”

A letter from NJ Transit’s executive director Steven Santoro to the tunnel project's interim executive director John Porcari reads: “NJ TRANSIT intends to generate the revenue to support $1.9 billion in Project design and capital construction costs through a per passenger trip charge for all NJ TRANSIT rail passenger trips each way across the Hudson River.”

Governor Chris Christie initially rejected a similar project in 2010, but he has now committed New Jersey to funding half the local cost. New York will pay the other half. The federal government is slated to pay for the rest.

Governor-elect Phil Murphy has called New Jersey Transit’s rail operation a ‘national disgrace’ but he says this costly rail tunnel is a "top priority."

NJ Transit has seen its share of derailments, delays and train cancellations in recent years.

"The [tunnel] Project is critical as it supports commuter rail, intercity, regional and local mobility, provides economic benefits regionally and nationally, provides a more cost-effective transit system due to lower operating and maintenance costs, reduces commuter and intercity rail delays caused by unanticipated events or routine maintenance and increases on-time performance," Director Santoro said.

And yet, some riders say that the impending high fares may leave them looking for rides elsewhere.

“There is also a ferry that leaves from New York,” said Julia Fallon, another rider waiting for the train in Montclair. "NJ Transit is significantly cheaper than the ferry, so that’s kind of helpful. Now, I mean, if the rate goes up it might become more of a competition. I’m going to take the ferry if it’s too expensive."