New Jersey's troubled transit system suffers from a lack of funding, low morale, a top-heavy management structure and little or no strategic planning, according to a lengthy audit released Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The 179-page report describes a litany of systemic problems plaguing New Jersey Transit, one of the nation's largest transit systems that the Democratic governor has characterized as a once-revered organization that is now considered "a national disgrace."
Murphy has made reforming NJ Transit one of the top goals of his first term, though he has often said the process will take years longer. The audit blamed a lack of consistent funding from the state for many of NJ Transit's problems, from equipment breakdowns to an inability to retain top talent.
"NJ Transit has no strategic plan, no retention program, no knowledge management program, and no succession plans," the report by North Highland Worldwide Consulting concluded. "The organization has an overly complex organizational structure matched by equally as complex business processes. The organizational culture reflects 'buck passing' and siloed behaviors, low employee morale, and ill-defined roles, authorities, and accountabilities."
NJ Transit has come under increasing criticism in recent months after a spate of train cancelations, many at the last minute. The cancelations resulted from an engineer shortage as well as federally mandated safety work that requires taking locomotives and train cars out of service as NJ Transit scrambles to meet a Dec. 31 deadline.
After a September 2016 train crash in Hoboken that killed a woman and injured more than 100 people, an Associated Press review found NJ Transit had more accidents and paid more in fines for safety violations than any other commuter railroad in the country over the previous five years.
The audit released Tuesday recommended running the organization more as a business and less as a government agency. It suggested developing offices to oversee strategic planning and to capitalize on NJ Transit's estimated $5 billion in assets.
Developing a strategic plan would make the organization more proactive and less prone to rely solely on crisis management, the report said. It also would aid in securing consistent funding - the absence of which, the audit concluded, would lead to "a deterioration of its assets, continued schedule and safety problems, and a disillusioned ridership."