Wisniewski warns of transit fare hikes

TRENTON – The potential New Jersey Transit fare is expected to be one of the more contentious topics in the capitol today, where the Assembly Transportation Committee heard from New Jersey Transit’s new acting Executive Director, James Weinstein.

Governor Christopher Christie plans to eliminate almost $33 million in state subsidies for the agency. 

“It’s not a zero-sum game. There are people who will be affected by this.  When you reduce that subsidy, as the executive director has indicated in his address to the board, fares will go up, service will be cut,” Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) told reporters just before starting the hearing.

The hearing also takes on some significance because Wisniewski is recently became head of the state Democratic Party.

Responding to Christie’s characterization of the agency as a “patronage pit,” Wisniewski said he planned to grill Weinstein on just how the agency can make up for the subsidy by cutting patronage alone.

“I’d like to hear from the executive director what patronage positions will you cut that will add up to $30 million?” he said. “That seems to be an extradaodinary number of patronage positions, but I’ll wait to hear what the executive director says.”

In his testimony, Weinstein painted a dire budget picture for the agency, saying it faces a $300 million shortfall in 2011.  He said he could not give specifics on just how high a fare hike riders could face, or how many jobs will be eliminated, until they’ve gone through the budget in detail. 

“In discussing impacts on fares and services, we will be absolutely transparent,” Weinstein said.  “Let me say clearly that some of the adjustments we have to make are going to be painful.”

Wisniewski warns of transit fare hikes