Monday, July 17, 2017

Transit Delays are a Symptom of a Larger Problem

NJ Transit train problems
NJ Transit has plagued with problems for years
Commuters via NJ Transit to New York Penn Station this morning were subject to an extra 20 minute delay due to a switch problem on Amtrak’s line. In addition, an Amtrak train hit a person near Milltown, NJ which also caused delays. None of the passengers on the train were hurt.

Amtrak began work on repairs its tracks Monday that will continue throughout the summer, ending September 10th.  Trains on the Morris & Essex line will now end at Newark Penn Station instead of New York Penn Station while repairs are ongoing.

PATH trains and ferries will honor NJ Transit ticket holders for the duration of the repairs. The increased options for public transit to New York made the first day better than many expected. Unfortunately, some of the extra buses provided Monday will not be a transit option going forward.

Getting into New York Penn Station already takes more than an hour from most stations in New Jersey that are close as the crow flies. However, due to the state of the tunnel and the tracks, trains are unable to go faster than a glacial pace quite often.

The system is so old there have been several train derailments already this year. Thus, repairs due to age as well as Hurricane Sandy are urgently needed. But they have been delayed for so long the entire system is crumbling.

NJ Transit is already operating at a diminished capacity due to the massive budget cuts it sustained under Chris Christie, having gone from a $350 million a year budget in 2005 to a $33 million a year budget in 2015.

When New Jersey raised the gas tax last year to address its transit woes, it did so at the expense of the estate tax. The estate tax, which especially affects the wealthy, will be eliminated next year, thus making the tax system worse for the average New Jerseyan. And this was a deal that was finalized only after months of negotiation.

During his campaign, Trump pledged to spend more on public infrastructure. However, his most recent proposal would cut infrastructure spending. To address the issue, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been pushing the Gateway project for quite some time while funding problems persist due to opposition from Republicans. The project would double the capacity of NJ Transit and Amtrak which would reduce travel time.

The poor state of our infrastructure is a subject of great political contention and has been so for some time. When a politician gives a speech declaring the need for a new bridge or road, some reactionary polemic will inevitably call him a “socialist”. However, a strong infrastructure is one of the qualities that define many industrialized, capitalist countries versus third world nations.

The poor state of our infrastructure is merely another symptom of runaway inequality and how the wealthy and their conservative allies have hallowed out our society. Transportation of course is merely one part of the U.S. domestic budget that is considerably underfunded due to austerity measures and tax loopholes favoring large corporations at the expense of the average taxpayer.

Of course, the irony is that if at some point, infrastructure funding increases dramatically and new projects pop up everywhere, the delays will be nearly as dreadful as those faced on the daily commute, at least temporarily.