Who should pay for mass transit?

From the Home News Tribune:

Concern looms over NJ Transit’s future financing

With another fare increase under consideration, outgoing NJ Transit director George Warrington once again is renewing a call for discussion of how to finance the commuter agency.

But board member and Belmar Mayor Kenneth E. Pringle has some specific ideas about looking at the agency’s expenses to determine what rightfully should be charged to riders and what should be funded by other means.

Warrington echoed comments by Damien Newton, Tri-State Transportation Campaign New Jersey Coordinator, that NJ Transit is doing right by ending a practice of siphoning off capital project money to cover operating expenses. Where Newton found fault was with state legislators for failing to come up with a stable funding formula for the agency’s operating expenses.

Newton placed the blame for the fare increase and the responsibility for working on a stable funding source on the Legislature and other policy makers.

NJ Transit officials have projected a $60 million deficit without a 9.9 percent fare increase to cover such increased costs as fuel, labor contracts and expanded services. NJ Transit’s board is scheduled to vote on fares in April.

Mass transit advocates criticized the agency and the state for subjecting passengers to a third fare increase since 2000, while drivers haven’t seen an increase in tolls or the tax on gasoline in years.

Pringle’s idea is to identify sources of various pieces of NJ Transit’s operating expense pie and decide who should fund them.

“We need to identify more carefully the internal elements that go to the cost of a fare increase and parse out the portion that ought to be borne by the riding public,” Pringle said. “As a board we need to look at it.”

The agency received a $300 million state subsidy to cover operating costs last year, up $22 million from 2004. Advocates point out that the amount of the subsidy is strictly based on decisions by the governor and Legislature. It is not tied to factors such as inflation, an increase in riders or the cost of adding service or equipment.

[Bowden] and Newton cited a double standard in how the state finances mass transit and highways, calling the hidden subsidy given to drivers “the most successful form of socialism in the United States.

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