Auto-Free Press Interview
Shirley DeLibero is the Director of Now Jersey Transit. TA's Cindy Arlinsky and Jon Orcutt recently met with Shirley to discuss her tenure in that position, and her vision for the future of transit both in Now Jersey and the entire region.
TA: Looking back over your tenure as NJ Transit director, what did you see as your priorities as you came on board? Knowing what you know now, have those Priorities changed?
SD: I'd say that my main priority began to form during my job interview with New Jersey Transits board of director. The board was (and is) very concerned with improving the quality of service--how to better and more efficiently maintain equipment make operations cost effective and generally continue to make refinements to make NJ Transit run as a business with a better product And once we had achieved that gotten better on-time performance, for instance, to let people know about it better market our service. By keeping our focus here, we've made it feed back into the system, so we continue to see ridership grow at the same time that efficiencies are improving.
TA: Ridership on the NJ Transit system has risen in a period which has seen declines on many other systems in the region. My do you think this is?
SD: Simply because the quality of service is better--we're getting passengers faster and more reliably from point A to point B. The fact that we haven't had a fare hike in 3 years hasn't hurt either. Part of it too is that part of running a business is paying close attention to your market your customers. We've started forums where we go out and engage riders in discussion about NJ Transit service.
TA: Has citizen advocacy changed your approach to any particular issue? Do you see a strong role for public input on transit and transportation Polity? What communities do you hear from the most?
SD: We're certainly listening to the public. We did that when we worked with Transportation Alternatives to get bikes on trains. listening to the people has been a major change for us. We find out in forums what people want to see, even in terms of vehicle design. Now we need our riders' help to defend our budget We hear from rider groups, from the legislators, municipalities, mayors, etc. The whole job of our division of community affairs is to go to towns, the public, groups like T.A. and bring back their concerns.
TA: Do you anticipate fare hikes in the next few years?
SD: Well, that depends on a lot of things. Right now Clinton's calling for a big reduction in operating subsidies for transit systems all over the country. That could mean a $6 or $7 million shortfall for New Jersey Transit Cutting those funds is in direct conflict with Clean Air Act mandates, so it really is a contradiction to push Low Emission Vehicles while cutting transit funds. Clinton should spend funds where they will move the most people, and that's not in automobiles.
TA: Do you have any thoughts on women and the transportation system--how it relates or doesn't relate to women's' specific needs? We've seen reports that the MTA is looking into day care at some of its rail centers.
SD: We're looking into amenities at stations. Day care is one such thing. When I look at what we're trying to provide, I try to look at both male and female riders. We'd like to put in concessions to make life easier for all riders, like cleaners, laundry, etc. We talked with one entrepreneur about day care, but in that case it didn't materialize because the cost must have seemed too high. We have a bank at one station.
A big concern for a lot of women I talk to who work late and take the late train from NYC is safety--making sure that we have a police presence in stations. I want to be able to hire enough police for all our stations, but so far it's unaffordable. We're the only transit agency that runs across an entire state. We have 120 cops--very small for a whole state.
TA: Do you see an attitude change coming with the new NJ administration? Is there hostility to transit as "public sector transportation" where cars are more like "Private sector transportation?"
SD: No I really don't see that at all, quite the contrary. I'm getting positive vibes from the legislature--the Senate is very interested in our urban core program. Whitman's appointments have also been encouraging. The new DOT head, Frank Wilson, was head of Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco. Also, her state treasurer is coming from the Federal Transit Administration. I think the administration understands the importance of transit and our wants and needs.
TA: If you were appointed transportation dictator for the metropolitan area, what would be some of the major changes you'd make?
SD: My biggest frustration--and an area where I'm trying to focus more now--is the need to bring transportation considerations early on into land use decisions. We're always trying to catch up once businesses or other concerns have relocated or built something. I want transit and transportation to get involved very early on. We need to be able to consider what kind of service a new mall or shopping center will require or make necessary.
TA: How about other long-term strategies to reduce driving and promote transit and other alternatives? Is NJT serious about exploiting bicycling and walking as station access modes?
SD: We'll continue to look at suburban initiatives to reduce tip distances for passengers. Our Secaucus transfer station will give us major reductions in trip times because well finally tie in our 12 lines and make it much easier to get directly into Manhattan. This kind of improvement will draw a lot more people out of their cars.
As for bikes, we're putting in bike lockers and racks at different points in the system. We now get 1% of our riders to stations on bikes. Our 158 stations will soon have about 1200 bike parking spaces, more than doubling our current 400 rack spaces and 105 lockers. In the next few years, we want to be able to accommodate 2,300 cyclists. We don't care how passengers get to our stations, and well do anything to get them there. We're starting to do more planning, landscaping, and major renovations, which should make stations better places to walk in and to.