Following the rail accident in Hoboken that killed a young mother and injured many passengers and a front-page New York Times story on the overall decline of New Jersey’s rail system in its funding, reliability and upkeep, Democrats in the State Assembly are moving to grant a legislative committee subpoena power to look into the safety and financial practices of N.J. Transit.
That story laid out the ways in which N.J. Transit, the third largest rail system in the country, has been left critically underfunded by the state’s contentious annual budget process since 2009. Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto said in a statement that addressing the problems facing the railways that connect New York to Philadelphia and suburban towns to those economic centers is critical for the state’s future.
“The public and the state’s economic vitality depend on NJ Transit to fulfill its mission, but the public has lost confidence in the agency’s ability to operate safely and efficiently,” Prieto wrote. “Public safety must always be the priority at NJ Transit, but recent events call into question whether the agency and the administration have been committed to that all-important principle. The public deserves a thorough and professional investigation that answers all its questions, but most of all it deserves this – a safe NJ Transit.”
Fares have soared in recent years, and Governor Chris Christie has hinted that another increase could be coming soon. Assemblyman John McKeon, chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, alluded to the appointment of Christie’s former press secretary Michael Drewniak to the position of ‘policy and strategic planning director,’ a job that was created for him by N.J. Transit’s executive director Veronique Hakim.
This review will greatly assist the Legislature’s efforts to enact meaningful reform to ensure that NJ Transit fulfills its purpose – safe transportation service in the public interest,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “We’ve seen fare hikes on working families combined with service cuts. We’ve seen NJ Transit used as place for patronage for unqualified appointees. We’ve seen concerns about public safety rise. And we’ve seen a dearth of leadership at this vital agency. The public deserves better than what’s been getting.”
Prieto said he expects the resolution to go to a vote on the Assembly floor during its next voting session on October 20.