From NJ Spotlight:
New Jersey Transit is among the mass-transit agencies that rely the most on fare revenues, according to a recent audit, which suggested a hefty real-estate portfolio could be better leveraged to bring in more for the operating budget.
Several weeks after the release of the audit that raised this issue, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law a measure requiring NJ Transit to establish a new division that will concentrate solely on real estate, economic development and so-called transit-oriented development that is generally located within walking distance of train stations.
The new law also requires NJ Transit to provide both the administration and lawmakers a host of information about its real estate every year, including a full inventory of all agency-owned properties and projections of their revenue-generating potential.
“NJ Transit is the second largest landholder in the state, and there has never been a listing of all [its] properties,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex). “This will help us moving forward in determining how to allocate funding to ensure that there are no wasted dollars.”
NJ Transit officials hope the real-estate inventory and emphasis on economic development within the agency will generate more private-sector interest in developing agency-owned properties and ultimately create a new revenue stream that could ease the burden on riders. The new law is also drawing praise from smart-growth planning advocates as it is expected to encourage more innovative development around train stations in the type of walkable, “transit-oriented” communities that are in high demand among millennials.
“The information and recommendations NJ Transit will receive from the office’s analysis will prove valuable and assist them in efforts to strategically generate additional non-fare revenue sources moving forward,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer).
Putting a bigger emphasis on new development in communities located near or adjacent to NJ Transit train stations should also fit in with the broader approach to economic development and housing that the governor has sketched out as a key policy goal. Among the many new programs Murphy proposed during a major speech in Nutley last month is a new state tax-credit program that would seek to incentivize new investment in New Jersey’s cities, downtowns and aging suburban communities that are linked to mass transit.
Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, praised that vision and overall “strategic plan” after the governor signed the bill.
“New Jersey is seeing substantial demand for walkable downtowns, particularly those situated near and around transit, and the creation of an office of transit-oriented development within NJ Transit will be a great resource to help meet that demand,” Kasabach said.