Collecting Fares Is Latest Problem for New Jersey Transit

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In recent weeks, New Jersey Transit commuters have grown furious over near-constant delays traveling to Penn Station. More pain is expected this summer, when Amtrak plans to close several tracks at the station for repairs. And New Jersey lawmakers continue to hold hearings to investigate the railroad’s many woes.

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Boarding a train at Pennsylvania Station in New York. Two recent derailments there have further strained New Jersey Transit. Credit Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

But regular riders are also flummoxed when their tickets are not checked, allowing some people to ride free and causing New Jersey Transit to lose money even as it raises fares. Twitter is filled with complaints from commuters like Russell Levine of West Orange, N.J., who spends about $210 on a monthly pass.

In a recent six-day period, Mr. Levine said, tickets went unchecked during three or four trips he took.

“You’re seeing the poor performance and hearing about funding issues and your ticket isn’t collected,” he said. “It’s like the cherry on top of the New Jersey Transit frustration sundae.”

The letter from Stephen Burkert, the general chairman of the union representing conductors, to Steven Santoro, New Jersey Transit’s executive director, said more than 269,100 fares were not collected over 13 months ending in December. The figures were based on forms that train crews use to report uncollected fares, though Mr. Burkert argued that the lost revenue was probably higher because the forms were not widely available in the final months of the year.

Workers are frustrated, the letter added, because it is difficult for two crew members to reach every car when they are assigned to multilevel trains that have eight to 10 cars.

Though delays are rising, ridership is booming on New Jersey Transit, leading to overstuffed trains, especially when problems force riders to cram onto fewer trains. The railroad carries about 165,000 people a day, up from 138,000 in 2009 — an increase of nearly 20 percent.

Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, disputed the union’s figures for lost revenue because most riders during peak periods have monthly passes, so they are still paying. Ms. Snyder said trains had enough workers to collect tickets, though sometimes people are sick or staffing problems arise.

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Because of the recent derailments, New Jersey Transit expects to be charged nearly $1 million for commuters who used their tickets on other transit providers, including New York Waterway’s ferries. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

“We do make every attempt to collect all revenue, and all money is important,” Ms. Snyder said.

Even if New Jersey Transit lost about $5 million in a year, as the union suggests, the amount would be a small percentage of the railroad’s total fare revenue, Ms. Snyder said. In the last fiscal year, passenger revenue for the railroad was about $582 million; the missing amount would be just under 1 percent of that.

Because of the April 3 derailment at Penn Station, New Jersey Transit expects to be charged about $798,680 for cross-honoring on PATH, New York Waterway and private buses over five days, Ms. Snyder said. After a derailment on March 24, the agency estimated that cross-honoring cost $165,300.

PATH alone had about 232,000 trips that were cross-honored during four days in early April, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs PATH. At $2.75 a ride, those trips would have cost New Jersey Transit about $638,000.

New York Waterway, which runs ferries between New Jersey and New York, also saw an influx of commuters. During the week of the April 3 derailment, about 161,553 people used New York Waterway, about 28,000 more than during the prior week, said Pat Smith, a spokesman for New York Waterway.

With major delays and cancellations expected this summer, commuters are already feeling stress over how they will get to work. Mr. Levine, who works in Manhattan, said he was worried that his train would be diverted to Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey, where he would have to transfer to a PATH train or ferry. The Hoboken station cannot handle an influx of riders, he said, since it is still being repaired after a fatal crash there last year.

“I’ll probably take a few more Fridays off than I would otherwise,” he said of his plans for the summer. Or, he joked, “I might buy a kayak.”

Barry Evans, a scientist who lives in Carteret, N.J., said he planned to switch from riding the train to taking a bus. Mr. Evans said that conductors did not collect tickets at least once a week, and that trains appeared to be short-staffed.

“On a very packed train, or any train that is delayed for 15 minutes or more,” he said, “you don’t see a conductor at all.”

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