Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NJT Executive Director Weinstein resigns

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Jim Weinstein Jim Weinstein
James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, the nation’s third-largest public transportation agency, announced Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, that he has resigned effective March 2. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who appointed Weinstein in 2010, said Weinstein will be replaced by Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, currently executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Weinstein announced his departure in a letter to NJ Transit employees. He credited them with having created in the past 30 years “one of the best public transportation agencies in the country from what started as a collection of bankrupt bus companies and railroads.” He cited surveys showing that nearly 80% of customers would recommend NJ Transit to a friend, family member, or neighbor “as evidence that NJ Transit has succeeded in putting customers first.”

NJ Transit has been criticized in recent months for how the agency handled two critical issues: preparing for Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, and providing public transportation for Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014, billed as “the first transit Super Bowl.”

Superstorm Sandy, which walloped the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area and caused devastation the likes of which had never been seen prior, flooded major NJ Transit facilities in Kearny and Hoboken, heavily damaged infrastructure, and caused more than $400 million in overall damage to NJT’s regional/commuter rail network, including $100 million to railcars and locomotives. NJT was criticized for its decision not to move its rail rolling stock out of the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, where most of the equipment damage occurred.

More than twice as many Super Bowl-goers as projected opted to ride NJ Transit trains to the game at MetLife Stadium. Following the lopsided game (dubbed the “Stupor Bowl”), during which many bored fans left early, it took several hours to transport everyone out, even though NJT supplemented the trains with buses.

As NJT’s head, Weinstein took the brunt of the criticism. In his letter to employees, he did not mention the Sandy controversy, but did repeat the agency’s previous defense of how it handled Super Bowl Transportation, noting that NJT “moved a record number of people safely and securely, which was our number one goal.”

HakimIn his announcement of new leadership at NJ Transit, Gov. Christie thanked Weinstein for his service and wished him well, but did not comment on Weinstein’s record at the agency. Christie is embroiled in a major political scandal, “Bridgegate,” in which members of his administration are accused of engaging in a conspiracy to shut down entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., to punish the mayor of that town for not supporting the Governor during his 2013 re-election campaign. Some observers say that Christie, who has denied knowledge of the incident, forced Weinstein to resign as part of his attempts to deflect attention from himself.

Weinstein, 67, was New Jersey Transportation Commissioner in the late 1990s. He spent several years as a vice president at Parsons Brinckerhoff before coming to NJ Transit.

Hakim, 53 (pictured above), a Queens, N.Y., native, has been executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority since September 2010. She spent more than 20 years at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority prior to her highway post.