NJ Transit audit calls for changes at top

METUCHEN, N.J. (AP) - An audit of New Jersey's troubled state mass transportation system describes it as plagued by top-heavy management, low morale, a lack of funding and little or no strategic planning.

Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled the 179-page New Jersey Transit report on Tuesday.

The Democrat made reforming NJ Transit one of his major priorities when he took office in January, calling the once-admired organization "a national disgrace."

"This is fixable. It is within our grasp, in a reasonable amount of time," Murphy said. "It won't be tomorrow; the incremental, when-do-you-see-it-on-the-platform question is going to take longer than people should have to wait. But we will get there."

The audit recommends restructuring management and operating NJ Transit more like a business and less like a government agency. It also urges creating an office of strategic planning and an office dedicated to enhancing the value of NJ Transit's more than $5 billion in assets.

"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's problems came to a head over the summer when an engineer shortage combined with federally mandated safety work caused numerous train cancellations.

Transit officials have blamed many of the problems on years of under-investment by previous administrations.

NJ Transit is scrambling to meet a Dec. 31 federal deadline to install a systemwide emergency braking system.