For the first time in 2 years, the NJ Transit board met in person on April 13, 2022. Much was the same: security check-in, label, escort to the 9th floor—yet there were changes: speaker check-in was done online before the meeting, for both phone and in-person speakers; in person, there was not the usual 2 sign-in sheets, speakers and attendees, but only an attendance sign-in sheet. No stacks of paper; similar reliance on the online agenda. The conduct of the meeting was familiar, and it was nice to see more than the portraits of board members, but to actually see them in person. Joyce Zuczek was missing, but Meghan Umukoro did an excellent job of conducting the meeting. During the public comment period, the main difference came after the in-person speakers: there were a number of people calling in via telephone—a welcome addition.
When in-person board meetings resume in April, there will be a full 13 members present (or at least 10: 3 individuals are nominated, not directly appointed, and need Senate confirmation). Missing from the dais will be current board member James Adams, who was not reappointed. The reason given is the end of his term (Dec. 31, 2020), but we are skeptical. Flora Castillo voted No twice in 2016, and she was not renewed. At the time we wondered if her Nos were a factor—Mr. Adams’ removal after multiple No votes seems to indicate that, indeed, dissent is not tolerated.
For the past few years, we have watched the so-called NJ Transit “reform” legislation wind its way through the Trenton legislature. Our concerns about NJ Transit’s priorities, practices, and policies are ongoing, and we did not see that the legislation includes the sort of changes needed. True, the newest version has the purported “customer advocate” reporting directly to the board of directors, not NJ Transit management—but we have watched unanimous board approvals of just about everything for almost 2 decades. There have recently been a few No votes, primarily James Adams (to his credit) refusing to rubber-stamp a budget that was presented without a work session or other opportunity to consider alternatives, but the culture of approving everything remains strong. We have seen environmentalists feeling victorious at arranging meetings with NJ Transit executives—and seen the results: a proposal that looks very much the same as it did before the first meeting ever took place.Continue Reading A Missed Opportunity
We were pleased to see Board Member James Adams again take seriously his responsibility to oversee the NJ Transit budget, and vote against the typically opaque presentation. From charts that mislead (e.g., showing claimed “savings” and showing only tips of the bars, which hides the actual magnitude), to larger-than-previous transfers from capital to operating costs, while federal funds sit untapped, there is much to question in this much-delayed budget. What is a concerned taxpayer to do?Continue Reading Report from the Chair, Mar./Apr. 2022
The Lackawanna Coalition and the N.J. Rail Passengers’ Association have both argued that the proposed “Customer Advocate” position in the NJ Transit reform bill is erroneously and misleadingly named, and our position has itself caused some confusion.
Take a look at the dictionary definition of the word advocate (from dictionary.com)
- a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. (usually followed by of): an advocate of peace.
- a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.
- a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law
We read in the Star-Ledger of the passing of Mr. Russell Graddy, “Mr. G.”, whom we had met in the course of his fight for justice from NJ Transit. Over 2 or 3 years, he and his group of dedicated supporters showed up at each board meeting in “Justice for Mr. G.” T-shirts, speaking truth to power, with courtesy and passion, refusing to be discouraged. Each month, the group testified to Mr. G’s integrity, support of his community, and the need to right the long-standing injustice. Mr. G. was always the closing speaker, reminding the board that, though they individually were not there in Atlantic City so many years ago, a board inherits the unresolved problems of the past, and this was theirs to solve.
At the October NJ Transit board meeting, I commented on the difficulty of finding information on agenda items in order to make meaningful comments. In previous administrations, the final written agenda included a lot more detail on action items.
As I looked over the packed agenda, there were items on which I had questions. I called our former technical director, current member Joe Clift, to get some answers. He also had questions, so together we hit the website. We looked for details on such items as the 8-electric-bus purchase for the Camden pilot project, and realized that we had seen some of these before—NJ Transit’s Capital Plan would have details. We found the documents: many pages, with no index or page numbers, but background material on action items to help us evaluate the projects.
On August 23rd we once again met in person at Millburn Town Hall, where we had an informative presentation from Josh Crandall of Clever Commute. Josh, who had given us a presentation a few years ago, reminded us of the project’s start when a group of 6 friend started sharing updates in 2006, just helping each other get to and from work with less stress. Since that time, Josh used his IT skills to transform the project into a full-fledged “app”, with a free and premium version. It had taken off successfully through February 2020—and then SARS-CoV-2 arrived, bringing a drop in rail ridership of 90%. Lots of Clever Commuters allowed their subscriptions to expire, not knowing what the future might hold.
For some time, Coalition Secretary Daniel Chazin has been reporting on confused passengers on the 12:45 Pascack Valley train to Spring Valley. Because a 12:49 Bergen line train to Middletown is scheduled on Track H at 12:49, only 4 minutes later, the automatic announcement that a “train is expected in 8 minutes” can cause inexperienced passengers, or those rushing to board one of the trains, to mistake the Pascack Valley train, arriving first, for the Middletown train right behind it.
Our June meeting was unique—a throwback to prepandemic times, as we met in person for the first time since our hybrid meting in December 2020, itself an anomaly in our string of phone meetings since March of that year. Millburn was gracious enough to allow us to have that December meeting to honor Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan as he retired and I took over the chair; we had not been together as a group since then until last month’s meeting, held at the Panera Bread café in Montclair, just a quick walk over the bridge from the Bay Street Station. Though it is not on our heritage Morris & Essex line, it was convenient, with good WiFi for our “Maestro members”—those from South Jersey or Philadelphia, or who for whatever reason preferred not to meet in person—night driving, vaccination status, we did not ask. We hope to do even better with hybrid meetings moving forward—perhaps a few cell phones in the room, so that those at a distance can hear and be heard better. It is a work in progress, and we enjoyed being together in person while retaining the freedom to call in as desired. Watch for upcoming meeting announcements, and join us on Facebook and Twitter, for updates.