The Railgram is the Coalition's official newsletter, published every two months and packed with in-depth coverage of the issues. For past issues and printer-friendly versions, click here.

Community transportation, a vital lifeline for New Jersey’s senior and disabled residents is in a serious funding crisis. Until 2008, casino taxes financed a large part of it, so that our seniors and disabled residents could get essential transportation for medical care and other necessary travel. Since 2008, the Casino Revenue Fund has dropped by more than 50%, with no signs that it will ever rebound. In their heyday, casinos couldn’t open fast enough in Atlantic City.

Now, due to competition from adjoining states, the few that are left are barely holding on, and several have closed in the past few years. This downward trend will likely continue. The glimmer of Internet gambling appears to be a “flash in the pan” with only a small portion of the amount raised providing a one-shot infusion of cash.

To provide the necessary funding, our Community transportation systems need a stable source of funding. It’s up to the Governor and legislature to fix this NOW. I encourage ALL coalition members and anyone reading this to contact both the Governor and their state senators and Assemblymen and urge them to find a stable source of funding for our Community transportation systems. Write a letter and make a phone call.

For my part, your chairman, David Peter Alan and I shall be meeting with Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) to discuss this matter in the near future. But it rests with ALL of us who share an interest in this important matter to act now to ensure we have Community transportation in the future for all New Jersey’s residents. Last summer, the Coalition passed a resolution that calls for stable, secure and sufficient funding for New Jersey Transit’s operations, as well as for Community transportation. We believe that both are needed to provide mobility for the people who need it the most.

New Jersey Transit has new leadership, and we hope it signals a change for the better for our riders and for us, as the advocates for our riders. Bus riders experienced improvements in their commutes under Dennis Martin’s leadership, and we hope rail riders will experience similar improvements, now that Martin is Executive Director.

We hope that Richard Hammer will follow in the footsteps of former Commissioner Jack Lettiere, who performed well in the job, after many years of career service at NJDOT. We hope that Hammer’s act of objecting to an item before the Board and casting a dissenting vote establishes a new custom among Board members by signaling that it is acceptable to disagree with management. The Board has been a “rubber stamp” which accepted every management proposal unanimously since April, 2003. That sort of enforced unanimity is antithetical to competent governance, and we hope that the “rubber stamp” era at NJT has finally come to an end.

We also continue to call for an end to the practice at NJT of making decisions in secret that adversely affect our mobility. There are legislative proposals that would require NJT to notify riders and the public generally about impending service cuts, and to add riders as voting members of the NJT Board. While we have not approved these proposals in their detailed entireties, we strongly endorse these principles as leading to better governance and management of our mobility.

It all boils down to respect for transit riders, and for the Lackawanna Coalition and the other advocates who represent those riders. Mobility, for people with or without automobiles, should be a right, and not a gift that can be granted or withdrawn at the will of managers who make decisions in secret and then implement them. We deserve better, and we will campaign to gain those improvements.

In an unusual move, New Jersey Transit has given riders on the Morris & Essex and Gladstone lines permission to stay out a few minutes later on Monday through Friday nights. The new schedules took effect on Nov. 9, only eight weeks after NJT had eliminated the last trains of the evening on several rail lines; a decision made and implemented without notice to us or to the affected communities.

The last train from Penn Station on the M&E now leaves at 12:56, so riders were given 22 minutes back, after losing 45 minutes of their evening in “the City” with the September schedule. Gladstone Branch riders got 21 minutes back after losing 59 minutes in September. Inbound, there is now an 11:30 train from Dover to Hoboken; a notable improvement over the 10:32 curfew that was imposed in September. That train skips all stops from Summit to Newark, however, and riders going to Essex County stops must wait in Summit for 31 minutes to catch their connecting train.

Montclair riders did not see a similar improvement; they lost six minutes. Neither did riders on the North Jersey Coast Line south of Long Branch. Their last train still leaves New York at 11:18 Monday through Friday nights. Until September, their last train left at 1:00. Saturday night and Sunday night schedules were not affected by either schedule change.

The Lackawanna Coalition had reacted quickly by strongly objecting to the original service cuts, as well as the secrecy with which they were implemented. We reached out vigorously to the media and to elected officials in our communities. We credit this campaign as the cause of NJT’s decision to return some of the time that management had taken from our riders. We also thank NJT rail chief Robert Lavell for implementing the improvements.

We consider these improvements as a step in the right direction, and we continue to campaign for full restoration of all service that was cut, and then for service to run later at night. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North both run significantly later than NJT on most lines, and New Jersey riders deserve the level of service that their counterparts living in New York State enjoy.

In the meantime, we call on NJT to utilize some “best practices” in use elsewhere, which will restore much of the mobility that our riders lost in September. We request that the 11:30 train from Dover drop passengers off at the Essex County stops from Short Hills to East Orange, without picking up any riders. Metra does this on some trains in Chicago, and it only adds two or three minutes to the schedule. We also recommend that a bus connect with the last train (12:56 from Penn Station) at Summit and drop off passengers at the established “substitute bus stops” on the Gladstone Branch. If NJT’s claimed ridership numbers are correct, a similar operation with a van could serve Shore riders south of Long Branch. In the late 1990s, there was a similar operation running early in the morning, going to Long Branch. All of these options would restore mobility at low cost, or at no additional cost.

We ask you, as affected riders, to join us and help us with our campaign to improve your transit mobility. We have scored some success, but there is more to be done. With your help, we will have a better chance of making a more significant difference.

NJT has new leaders, and the results might bring improvements to New Jersey’s transit riders.

On Dec. 23, Dennis J. Martin was officially promoted from head of bus operations to Executive Director, succeeding Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, who has returned to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City. Martin is a longtime veteran at NJT, who has received high marks for improving bus flow at the Port Authority Bus Terminal during the afternoon commuting peak. We hope that all transit riders will enjoy improvements under his leadership.

There is also a new Acting Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), who is waiting to be confirmed as a permanent appointment. He is Richard Hammer, a 33-year veteran at NJDOT. By statute, the Commissioner of Transportation is also the Chair of the NJT Board of Directors.

Hammer took the extraordinary step of voting against an item on the Board’s agenda in December, when he objected to a personal injury settlement that NJT will be required to pay. Although no details were released, we assume that he considered the settlement excessive. This marks the first time since April, 2003 that any Board member cast a dissenting vote on any issue. The Lackawanna Coalition and other rider-advocates have criticized the NJT Board for acting as a “rubber stamp” for several years, and we express our hope that Commissioner Hammer will encourage other Board members to cast their votes in the best interests of transit riders, rather than blindly approving every matter before them.

Hammer was tapped for the post in the wake of the sudden departure of former Commissioner Jamie Fox. When Fox abruptly left NJDOT during the McGreevy Administration in 2004, Jack Lettiere, a career DOT engineer, was selected to succeed him. Lettiere is acknowledged as one of NJDOT’s best commissioners in decades. We hope history will repeat itself with Richard Hammer.