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NJ Transit OKs Budget That Holds Line On Fares

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The NJ Transit board of directors approved a nearly $1.9 billion operating budget Wednesday that will keep the cost of public transportation in the state unchanged next year.

The spending plan, which is $85 million higher than the 2011 budget, assumes only modest revenue growth from increased ridership as a result of the region and nation's ongoing economic woes.

The agency initially faced a budget gap of roughly $170 million, mostly because of rising costs for fuel, maintenance and contractual obligations. However, it was able to trim some costs and saw its state operating assistance amount grow by $33.2 million, to $309.4 million.

"This budget enables us to continue delivery of safe and reliable service to our customers while maintaining the state's transit network in a state of good repair and modernizing our bus and rail fleets," said James Weinstein, the agency's executive director. "The ongoing delivery of new rail and bus equipment will make NJ Transit's fleet one of the youngest in the nation, and our continuous focus on critical infrastructure needs over the years has put the system in good shape going forward."

The board approved the nearly $1.9 billion operating budget and a $1.16 billion capital budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. The capital budget includes $64 million for system-wide improvements, such as $16 million for technology upgrades and $2.6 million for police radios and equipment.

"We continue to position ourselves to be a stronger, more financially-stable agency that operates as efficiently as possible while responding to the transit needs of New Jersey residents," said state Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, who also chairs NJ Transit's board.

NJ Transit is the nation's largest statewide public transportation system, with 240 bus routes, three light rail lines and 12 commuter rail lines. About 428,000 people use the system each weekday, and it gets about half its revenue -- nearly $900 million -- from fares.

Also on Wednesday, the board approved changes to sick leave for non-union workers, who account for about 1,800 of NJ Transit's 11,000 employees. New workers will not be allowed to cash out unused sick time, while the agency will continue to cap the amount of sick time current workers can cash out upon retirement at $15,000.

Details on how much money the agency paid out last year wasn't available late Wednesday afternoon.

The board meeting came on the same day that NJ Transit released the first results of an ongoing rider satisfaction survey. Overall, riders gave NJ Transit a 5.2 rating out of 10.

The survey found NJ Transit riders are not thrilled about the price of a ride, late trains and buses and service interruptions, and they give the sprawling statewide system mediocre marks in a new customer satisfaction survey. But most also realize that few better alternatives exist.

About two-thirds of respondents say they use the public transit system even though they have a car, and would recommend the system to friends and relatives.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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