NJ Transit’s 2010 fare hike was the steepest in the agency’s history. Commuter rail fares rose by about 25%, as did interstate bus fares on lines to Philadelphia and New York. But NJ Transit only raised local bus fares by about 10%, with the base fare increasing from $1.35 to $1.50, down from the original proposal of a $1.70 base fare. This was to protect economically vulnerable populations to depend on local bus services.
Concurrent with the 25% fare increase, NJ Transit also eliminated off-peak round trip tickets, which provided a discount to train passengers who rode outside of rush hours. Local train fares, for trips as short as one stop or up to several miles, saw the largest increase.
A round trip from Newark to Orange that used to cost $2.75 now costs $4.50, an increase of 64%.
For many, local commuter train service in New Jersey is an extension of the bus network. This is especially true on inner portions of the Northeast Corridor, Montclair-Boonton Line, and Morris and Essex lines, the latter two of which have closely spaced stops, under or about a mile apart.
The Morris and Essex in particular has segments that resemble a rapid transit line, with elevated tracks, frequent stops, and (somewhat) frequent service. These services are especially important for reverse commuters, who live in Newark and the Oranges and commute to suburban employment centers. Many are also students. You can get on an almost-full inbound local train at Maplewood at 4 PM, and chances are it will have emptied out by the time the train reaches Newark.
These riders were not given the same consideration that local bus riders received during the 2010 fare hikes.
This time, NJ Transit is thinking differently. Under the current proposal, short-distance local rail fares are the only fares that will not be increased. The minimum fare on North Jersey lines will stay at $2.25 for trips of two zones or under. Minimum local fares on NJ Transit’s low-ridership Atlantic City Line will stay as low as $1.50.
Perhaps management has realized that it’s a smart move not to price local riders off of trains. On a system that mostly serves City-bound commuters, trains may be crowded as they leave Hoboken or Penn Station, but there are almost always plenty of empty seats toward the fringes of the system.
Still, NJ Transit’s local fares are reasonable compared to other commuter railroads. Fares for a one-way ride between two adjacent non-terminal stations are:
- San Francisco’s Caltrain: $3.25-$5.25*
- Philadelphia’s Septa: $3.50
- New York’s Metro-North: $3.00
- Boston’s MBTA: $2.10-$2.75**
- Los Angeles’ Metrolink: $5.00
- Chicago’s Metra: $3.50
- Maryland’s MARC: $4.00
- New Mexico’s Rail Runner: $2.00
- Florida’s Tri Rail: $2.5-3.75*
- Washington’s Sounder: $2.00
*Depends on zone boundaries. A one stop ride can be either a one-zone or two-zone trip.
**Different inner- and outer-system local fares.
Compared to peer railroads, especially larger systems, NJ Transit’s local fare of $2.25 is a bargain. Few except the local riders themselves will likely notice the proposal to keep these fares low, but regardless, NJ Transit should be congratulated for keeping short-haul train travel affordable and not pricing local riders off the system and onto buses.