With a looming $300 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year, NJ Transit released a proposal to increase fares by 25 percent, systemwide, and trim service proportionate to recent ridership declines.
Under the proposal, a one-zone local bus trip or one-way ticket on Newark or River Line light rail lines would increase from $1.35 to $1.70 per ride, while one-way commuter rail tickets would increase about 25 percent, subject to rounding. Rail ticket prices vary based on distance, but one-way fares would rise from a range of $1.25-$13.25 to a range $1.50-$16.50. Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tickets would increase from $1.90 to $2.40 per trip.
"We recognize that any increase is a burden for our customers, particularly during a recession," said Executive Director Jim Weinstein. "However, we have worked to keep local bus fares below the regional average and preserved some important discounts for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as for students and others who are among the most transit dependent."
Commuters will be able to continue to take advantage of discounted travel by purchasing monthly passes, which in many cases provide a discount of 25 percent or more off full fares. The plan also continues interchangeable features that allow customers to connect between trains and buses without paying additional costs, however, off-peak roundtrip discounts - used today by about 17 percent of rail customers - would be eliminated and 10-trip bus discounts would be capped at 15 percent off the full fare price.
The plan calls for most of the changes to take effect May 1, 2010, and NJ Transit expects to generate more than $140 million in revenue. The agency pointed out that with the proposed increase, fares will be three percent lower than they were in Fiscal Year 1991, based on inflation-adjusted dollars.
As for service, NJ Transit set a goal of reducing service proportionate to ridership, which has declined systemwide by about four percent as a result of the economy and low fuel prices. In all, the agency proposes to eliminate 32 of 725 commuter trains, with at least two trains scheduled for elimination on each of the system's 11 lines. A few lines will see a handful of trains cut.
"Our service plan is designed to size our service to match ridership demand," said Weinstein. "We also looked at where we could squeeze out the most costs while impacting as few customers as possible."
Under the plan, bus customers would experience reduced service frequency on about 50 routes systemwide. In most instances, the interval between bus arrival times will grow by a range of five to 20 minutes. NJ Transit's proposal also calls for service to be discontinued on three NJ Transit bus routes and several local routes operated by private carriers.
Additionally, WHEELS minibus service would be discontinued in all counties. WHEELS is a legacy program that has exhausted its original federal funding to connect people to transit rail stations, and is underutilized in most areas, particularly in rural parts of the state.
Meanwhile, light rail customers will see frequency decrease under the plan. For example, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail intervals between late night trains would extend from 20 to 30 minutes on weekdays, and redundant weekend service on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Tonnelle Avenue to Hoboken branch would be eliminated.
Public hearings are scheduled in 11 locations across the system from March 25 to 27. The hearings and information sessions will be held in the evenings and on Saturday to encourage participation.
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