(The Center Square) – The $2 trillion stimulus package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday reportedly includes a $1.25 billion bailout for New Jersey Transit (NJT), the full amount the company requested on March 19.
To Regina Egea, president of the Garden State Initiative, that money comes with some obligations.
“The acceptance of a bailout from the federal government that amounts to nearly half of the agency’s operating budget should come with great responsibility,” Egea told The Center Square. “The leadership of NJ Transit should be held accountable by the Legislature for the results they deliver to their customers and the taxpayers who subsidize their operations.”
One responsibility, Egea said, is NJT’s leadership should engage with union leadership to review outdated work rules that have hurt NJT customers in the past.
“NJT’s customers are quite familiar with trains being canceled due to ‘crew shortages’ and buses leaving riders stranded due to ‘operator unavailability’ as a result of work rules,” Egea said. “Now is the time to examine work rules that have hampered the agency’s ability to respond to the needs of riders and especially newer employers.”
Egea said another responsibility is an opportunity to improve NJT’s route efficiencies, which is needed during the COVID-19 pandemic more than ever.
“The agency can proactively reach out to key employers during the crisis such as supermarkets, logistics centers, and healthcare providers,” Egea said. “NJT can then recommend to the legislature increasing service to those areas that do not operate under normal ‘rush hour’ service, so that essential employees can travel safely to and from work.”
NJT initially requested the bailout after they experienced a significant drop in revenue following many workplaces closing in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
“With a ridership decline of nearly 90%, according to published reports, that loss of farebox revenue clearly limited the agency’s ability to operate and signaled the need to temporarily reduce service,” Egea said. “This lower passenger load presents an incredible opportunity however for NJT’s management to plan now for a more effective, customer driven NJT post COVID-19.”