NJT Board’s “No” Vote on the Proposed Contract with Academy Is a Huge Break from Tradition: COMMENTARY

The March vote by the NJ Transit Board to reject the proposed contracts that would have given Academy Express, LLC, the right to operate several bus lines in Hudson County for the next 3 was historic, and it represented a radical departure from the past 42 years of board practice.

The decision to reject Academy as an operator and instead award the contracts to Coach, USA, marked the first time that the Board had voted against an agenda item of major significance in the agency’s history, dating back to 1979. The vote was unanimous, in keeping with Board custom.

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NJT Signs Contract for Cutoff Construction, but It’s No More than a Baby Step

At its April 13 Board meeting, the first “in-person” meeting in more than 2 years, NJT approved a $32.5 million contract for rehabilitating the Roseville Tunnel, located along the former Lackawanna Cutoff right-of-way, west of Port Morris Yard. The project is part of an effort to restore service on 7.3 miles of new track west of Port Morris (less than 8.3% of the former 88-mile line between Port Morris and Scranton), to a 55-space park-and-ride station in Sussex County’s Andover Township.

An NJT press release said, “The Rehabilitation of the Roseville Tunnel is a crucial element in restoring passenger rail service from Port Morris to a new station in Andover,” and touted the eventual return of service to the state’s Northwestern county, but current plans call for a low-capacity station and service during commuting-peak-hours only. The release made no mention of eventual service to Scranton.

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April Brings a Full NJ Transit Board:
James Adams Cancelled

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.

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James Adams Cancelled

A Missed Opportunity

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.

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