Regional Plan Association Testimony Regarding NJ Transit Audit

Good morning. I’m Nat Bottigheimer, the New Jersey Director with Regional Plan Association.

The RPA applauds Governor Murphy and his New Jersey Transit team for the forthright accounting of challenges announced in yesterday’s audit findings, and for taking on the significant issues that remain to be addressed at the transit agency, after the near-term implementation of PTC and hiring of more engineers. 

The RPA agrees with the diagnoses that were delivered in yesterday’s audit, particularly the identification of a deep need for strategic thinking, customer focus, and for state-of-the-practice business processes.

Now that the audit is out, we are eager for NJTransit to implement solutions to the problems identified. One way to do this is to develop a strategic plan for the agency.

In order to address the quality, reliability, cost, and accessibility of transit in New Jersey – for bus and rail – RPA calls on the state and NJTransit to develop a plan as comprehensive and ambitious as the one that Andy Byford has prepared for the MTA in New York.

A New Jersey “Fast Forward” plan, as the New York’s plan is called, would respond to the challenges identified in the audit and lay a roadmap for change and benchmarks for turning things around:

Such a plan would include:

  • A commitment to improved customer information and communications
  • Business process improvements to reduce operating costs and improve service quality. 
  • Enhancements in accessibility – for ALL users – of rail stations and bus routes throughout the State.
  • Increased service to address crowding and growing demand for transit.
  • Building transit-oriented housing and businesses on land at and near transit stops around the State and improving access to rail and bus hubs.
  • Partnership with cities, towns, and NJ DOT to improve bus service based on systematic, data-driven analysis of all the factors that contribute to bus delay and unreliability 
  • Finally, there should be plans to leverage new shared ride services and technology to improve the cost-effectiveness of transit service , and a strategy to guide municipal accommodations for new vehicle technology must be developed.

Beyond an ambitious “Fast Forward” type plan, New Jersey needs to build robust connections between its just-released economic growth plan and transportation investment in the state.

An effective transportation strategy would prioritize investments to advance economic strategy.

It would also include a clearly defined, organizing idea about what transit and walkability mean for the state.

It would reflect the diversity of businesses and communities that rely on transit in New Jersey, and would motivate diverse state agencies to work together towards a common goal.

Finally: a word that appears throughout North Highland’s report is the word “empowerment.”  

I have no doubt that these are accurate observations and reasonable recommendations, because I’ve worked at a transit agency where the need for employee (and customer) empowerment was paramount.

And our request is that a new culture be established of backing up employees who are doing what makes sense; who are asking smart but awkward questions; who point out elephants in the room; who take up for the customer; who rock the boat.

In an organization in this condition, you know what people inevitably say when they shrug their shoulders:  “It rolls downhill.” To truly empower employees, this law of physics needs to be reversed. Employees who make trouble because they develop solutions that break stasis need to be elevated. Employees who explain why things are the way they are need to be replaced.

And a culture of experimentation needs to be cultivated, with employees rewarded for daring and innovation and supported even when experiments don’t work.

Thank you.