Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin nominated a Middlesex County freeholder who commutes by bus to NJ Transit’s board of directors on Monday, while two of Gov. Phil Murphy’s nominations still remain open.
Coughlin nominated Freeholder Shanti Narra of New Brunswick to the board. If seated, Narra could give a voice to a group of possibly the most underrepresented commuters, those who ride private carrier commuter buses.
Under reform legislation signed by Murphy in December 2018 that expanded the board from eight to 13 members, the assembly speaker has one nomination to the board.
“A commuter herself, Freeholder Narra is well known in my home county of Middlesex for her sense of fairness and dedication to the people she serves. Her hard work on behalf of commuters will position her to be invaluable to NJ Transit,” Coughlin said in a statement.
Narra, a practicing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of New York, said she uses the bus to commute to her job, where she is a supervisor in the Criminal Defense Division.
She rides the Suburban/Coach USA Wall Street line from Tower Center in East Brunswick, a spokeswoman for Coughlin said. Suburban is one of several private carriers that receives buses from NJ Transit to operate commuter service.
Private bus commuters have complained in the past that they lack a voice about their commutes and getting issues addressed, since NJ Transit doesn’t have direct control over those routes. Complaints caused one Middlesex County town to form a commuter council to look into bus rider complaints.
Private carrier fare increases also don’t go through the same hearing process as NJ Transit fare increases.
Similar to NJ Transit, during the coronavirus pandemic, private bus companies saw ridership losses and cut back commuter service, which is slowly being restored.
Private carrier officials also have been hard hit by losses to their core business which are bus charters by groups to tourist destinations. Unlike transit agencies, those carriers were not included in CARES act to provide federal aid to cover revenue losses.
“I am acutely aware of the issues facing NJ Transit as the agency works to accommodate passengers,” she said in a statement. “I will do everything I possibly can to ensure NJ Transit is a model for the rest of the country in meeting the needs of all bus and rail commuters.”
Her nomination leaves two spots on NJ Transit’s board of directors after Murphy pulled back his nomination of Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign deputy director and a Raritan Valley line rider ,and Michael Beson of Ocean Township in Monmouth County.
A Murphy spokesman said he had no comment when asked about the status of the governor’s two nominations to the board and when he plans to make nominations to bring the board to full strength.
Narra previously served on the North Brunswick Township Planning Board and was “deeply involved” in the development of the North Brunswick Transit Village, where a new NJ Transit train station is planned on the Northeast Corridor line. The Transit Village located off Route 1 is seen as a way to spur economic growth in the Township.
That station requires construction of the “Mid-line loop”, which is a $350 million overpass to allow trains to cross the busy NEC without interfering with Amtrak’s high speed trains.
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Larry Higgs may be reached at email@example.com.