New Jersey’s governor pledges to keep fares down, investments up in transit

NEWARK — New Jersey’s new governor is making a big push to change your commute.

In a one-on-one interview with PIX11’s Christie Duffy, Governor Phil Murphy said the state’s economy depends on it. But the most important question for commuters is — will my bus or train fare go up?

“Well, we’ve committed to no fare hikes at least through fiscal 2019,” said the democratic Governor. That’s a promise through June 2019.

To make that happen Murphy has pledged $242 million taxpayer dollars to increase NJ Transit's funding by about a third.

It’s no secret that NJ Transit has been plagued by problems. Murphy says his predecessor slashed investments at the agency by 90 percent. Finances got so strained that NJ Transit pulled an estimated $3.44 billion from their long-term capital projects fund to cover day-to-day expenses.

Commuters feel that strain every time a train or bus is delayed or cancelled. It’s also resulted in safety failures.

“There have been too many lapses,” said Gov. Murphy.

PIX11 recently reported on moving train doors randomly flying open with commuters standing inches from the edge.

“Where do you want to see that money spent first?” PIX11’s Christie Duffy asked Murphy.

“I want to see it most importantly spent on safety and at point of attack, and those two are related. So I want commuters to see it. I want them to feel as though they’ve got a safe system and they’ve got a reliable system,” he said.

Murphy is also holding President Trump’s feet to the fire for a major federal investment that could dramatically change the commute for train riders. The Gateway tunnel is an $11 billion project that would give trains another way to get to the city. With the current passage aging-out at over 100 years old, brittle and broken after sandy - New Jersey and New York’s economy depends on it, says Murphy.

“Nobody looks at this and thinks its not a good idea,” he said. "I believe even the President. So I’m assuming something else is going on some other drama is playing out. It’s frustrating without question. But I’m still an optimist.”

The Gateway Project is the first thing the new governor spoke to the President about in a phone conversation minutes after his election. And it’s the last thing he spoke to the President about when he was in Washington two weeks ago.

“We are serious about NJ Transit. We put the leadership in. We’ve made a historic investment.”

Murphy has pulled 40 train cars that were sitting in a maintenance yard and put them back into service to stop overcrowding.

He's ordered resignations from top leaders at the agency.

He wants to hire more train engineers, bus drivers and compliance officers - to be sure trains and buses that leave the yard are safe.

And he’s pushing the agency to invest in a potentially life-saving technology called positive train control. Right now only 10 percent of NJ Transit trains have it.

All this, while trying to keep fares down for commuters in the coming years.

“I’d like to think we could have a very long period where fares didn’t go up but I don’t want to get committed to something that I can’t know that I can deliver on,” he said.

Murphy has also ordered an extensive audit into NJ Transit’s operations, leadership and finances to see where money has been spent or misspent over the years. The results of that audit are due out in the next 4-5 weeks.