(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 344: No More Transit Hunger Games

July 28, 2021

This week Dan Baer, Senior Vice President at WSP talks with Kevin Corbett, President and CEO of New Jersey Transit. In this 1 on 1 conversation, Dan and Kevin talk about NJ Transit’s response to the pandemic, bus electrification, and much more.

Below is a full unedited transcript of the conversation which can be found in audio form here.

Dan Baer (1m 56s):
Good day. I’m Dan Baer. I’m may senior vice president of WSP USA, and I oversee the national development of major projects for the company. And it’s my extreme pleasure to be part of this series of podcasts that rail dilution is sponsoring. I also want to mention that rail evolution will be conducting its national conference virtually in October on the 19th and 21st. So please sign up, certainly be a participant. And we look forward to seeing everybody virtually I have the opportunity and pleasure of being able to conduct a conversation with a longtime associate and friend Kevin Corbett, who is the CEO and president of New Jersey transit.

Dan Baer (2m 54s):
One of the largest transportation agencies in the United States, just to give you some of the statistics, they operate 252 bus routes and 12 commuter rail lines, and a number of paratransit services, serving proxy, a million people, a million weekday trips. That’s significant that’s significant Kevin is, has extensive experience both in the public and private sectors. Now he worked on some of the most significant projects in the New York metropolitan region, and also worked kind of on the development side for New York state’s empire state development corporation.

Dan Baer (3m 38s):
So he really understands that whole transportation and land use equation that drives economic vitality also had his extensive background in the private system sector in the logistics field. The graduate of Georgetown university loves to ski, loves to hike have, and I go way back many, many years, we worked together on some port projects, but Kevin, I’m going to embarrass you. And I’m going to T I’m going to tell a little story before we start that one day I was in a station in Newark, New Jersey, walking through it, watching an individual, having a very difficult time, purchasing a ticket who walked up to help that person purchase a ticket.

Dan Baer (4m 24s):
It was Kevin Corbett. Now, how often do you see as CEO who will stop and help their customers purchase a ticket? I thought that was, I thought that was fantastic. So this point in time, I’d like to say Kevin, welcome. Thank you for taking the time today to do this podcast for revolution. And I just want to say with that extensive background and all the things that you’ve been involved with and coming to New Jersey transit at a very difficult time, a time where the agency had been underfunded and undervalued for many years, or a lot of the capital money was being spent on operations, you still said yes to this job.

Dan Baer (5m 5s):
So tell me why you took this job.

Kevin Corbett (5m 8s):
Well, you know Dan, I mean, you’ve known me as you said it. Yeah. I’m glad to be here. And I really think route revolution has been a great and real. I see the success so glad to be supportive of that and be part of it. And you and I, as we say, we go way back. So, you know, some people may say that, you know, I, I should never have touched a, you know, a bottle of 1 51 ROMs that, that, that, that is not true, but seriously, you know, I think you’ve been involved in as many of the people that you listened to this podcast with some really challenging projects and have you really liked to, you know, up your game and you know, when you get to a senior level, but you like the more challenging projects, the bread and butter ones, which bring in, bring in the revenue of your, in the private sector.

Kevin Corbett (5m 48s):
But when I looked through the challenge, you also, as you’ve got some gray hair, you realize you never accept responsibility unless you have the authority to deliver. You know, it was very when talking with governor Murphy, you know, a number of us had been sort of advising him and, you know, he was interested in what was going on in the transportation field. He got it that a number of us may be transportation geeks. And, you know, we grew up, I grew up in the New York when it was a great port. And, you know, I grew up in a maritime family or transportation was sorta in your blood, but it’s really not about the transportation is about the overall economy. And we’re the underpinning for a successful economy. Phil Murphy got that. And he knew that New Jersey transit put it out there was seen as a national disgrace.

Kevin Corbett (6m 30s):
No. How important was the economy when it turned around? Great challenge. But I said, be able to do that. I would need the authority to hire good people and would need the resources. You gotta have the best team, but you don’t have the resources. They’re not going to stick around. He and my board chair of the board were really have been great supporters and that has gave me the tools to be able to deliver in a, it was a great challenge, but, you know, we’ll, we’ll touch, I’m sure on a CA on a couple of those challenges, but certainly it’s turned out very well because of that.

Dan Baer (6m 58s):
Yeah. I, you know, I’d have to say it’s been a tremendous transformation of the agency and I congratulate you. You have succeeded on a number of very difficult challenges that the previous administration and previously a ship could not follow through on. So, so you, I think you, you put the agency in a whole nother position today and it’s, and we talk about New Jersey transit very differently today than we did four years ago. I can tell you that. So congratulations, but let’s talk a little bit about some of those successes, some of the opportunities, how, and you know, how we look at New Jersey transit in the future. So Kevin, let’s talk a little bit about your capital planning process.

Dan Baer (7m 40s):
Now your capital planning process prior to you to coming, coming to New Jersey transit was basically, you know, what do we want to do? How do we want to fund it? What are your favorite projects? But you instituted some priorities. You instituted some rigor into this process. So in 2020 New Jersey transit prepared its first five-year rolling capital plan. So let’s discuss the benefits of a rolling plan, what it is and why did you do it?

Kevin Corbett (8m 11s):
Thanks Dan. And certainly I know you’ve lived in breathe as well. And you know, that is not a radical concept, many major agencies around the country around the world use. That was one of the things when I first came in, I was really surprised that there was no strategic plan and there was no a five-year capital plan. And it sort of was like, I think the agency had been starved very heavily using capital switching capital to cover operating age of our fleet was it is still coming down. The rail cars take longer as you, that it’s actually manufacturing get, get delivery, but we had a whole batch of, of problems and there was not a coherent path of how to get out of those. And also to have that, that kind of five-year capital plan.

Kevin Corbett (8m 53s):
There’s a lot of positives that come out of that as an unconstrained plan. So it’s just, it’s $17 billion plan a which we have 12 billion identified. So we’re going around with the tin cup to get the funding, but having that plan out there. So there’s all fall batch of positive virtues that, you know, allows, you know, set clear targets, you’re tied into metrics, et cetera. I think that was really critical to get, to get that out, to get our focus and prioritizing what we needed to turn around the agency and sort of get out of the trend of the transit hunger games when he came here, that, that plan, you know, whoever made the most noise, which may have gotten it, or the chase federal funding depends on, you know, whatever funding chasing projects to see where the funding was and with proper funding, then you can really get an organized coherent approach that really optimize use of, of capital.

Dan Baer (9m 41s):
Yeah. I agree. The benefit that New Jersey, I guess, New Jersey saw in doing a rolling five-year capital plan was the fact that you could take another look every year. So let’s talk about that opportunity. Be able to reprioritize and reevaluate on a yearly basis.

Kevin Corbett (9m 59s):
Yeah, I think that’s really important to rolling versus a static cause things change certainly, you know, by updating certain projects, move ahead quicker, you know, and they go really well. Other products maybe gets bogged down with a, you know, a historic preservation aspects or interoperability say with Amtrak, depending on how things are going on in the Northeast corridor, different phasing, some projects may move ahead. Some may fall behind also priorities may shift, major weather events may change things or other aspects, you know, look at the Biden administration coming in, but we want to be able to make sure that we’re in a position to capitalize on, hopefully what comes out of the infrastructure bill. So that may accelerate certain things. So now that that rolling, updating it every year as it is a healthy exercise, also revisits tying that into your strategic objectives.

Kevin Corbett (10m 44s):
Are you making those strategic objectives? You know, it’s one thing to have rhetoric, but you know, when you start measuring, if we’re not making those effective, maybe we need to refocus and retool some of the things in the capital plan

Dan Baer (10m 55s):
And your opportunity are you, you’re very clear about this. I’m you need to be in tune with what’s happening with the federal administration. The federal administration has been talking about the importance of sustainability and resiliency and equity and building those into your program that gives you an opportunity every year to make sure that you have that focus on kind of those three pillars of importance from the federal administration. Absolutely. We talked about the capital plan. So let’s talk about some of those capital investments. You’re going to be looking at your, you guys have been extremely busy, probably as busy as I’ve seen you in many, many years and congratulate you. And you mentioned that it’s all about your staff as well.

Dan Baer (11m 37s):
And I’ve had the opportunity to work with many individuals at New Jersey transit. And I have to say that that New Jersey transit has assembled a top flight staff to move these very important projects for, because you know, you’re dealing with issues that are not only about New Jersey, but are bout a, an economy that is one of the largest in the world. And you’re part of that machine that continues to feed that economy. So let’s talk about some of those important capital projects that New Jersey transit is in construction planning is looking to advance.

Kevin Corbett (12m 16s):
And it was interesting. We had a backlog of projects that actually had been federally funded from the Sandy Superstorm Sandy resiliency program that had bogged down weren’t moving ad for a variety of reasons. We were at war with Amtrak when I came in here other than a really hostile environment. And yet we’re joined, joined at the hip all the way from the Pennsylvania border, right through to long island. You know, a lot of those projects had bogged down as a first let’s get the ones we had. We had money sitting that was not being utilized. So there’s some of the resilience projects we got moving quickly. One of them is the rarity in river bridge on our coastline at one of the 12 grads you mentioned, and you know, that’s a $600 million project.

Kevin Corbett (12m 59s):
That’s now under construction. The way we actually did it through the middle of the pandemic, we thought saw it. Actually, the pandemic was a good opportunity to keep construction moving. And we were able to put packages out to bid. We had to be creative with doing some of the interviews virtually, et cetera, but you know, we moved that another big project is Hoboken. You know, everyone knows of course, New York, Penn station, New York city, as sort of the center of global commerce capitalism, a real global center. People tend not to think of New Jersey as you know, the major, the major half of the supplying that workforce. And, and, and I, and then out and along the quarter, as well as all our, our, all the activity we have within the, within New Jersey.

Kevin Corbett (13m 45s):
And we also serve as Arjun Rockland county in New York, the legacy of the 18th, 19th century pirate railroads. You know, they’d all focus on the development of the port of New York when the freight and rail were combined in the private sector. So a lot of those projects, we have very old infrastructure, very complex infrastructure network on the rail side of that, we have a backlog of projects on station projects like Elizabeth station. We moved that ahead. That’s a $71 million station right along the Northeast corridor that was held up in fighting with Amtrak. Oh, you know, we have a very positive relationship with Amtrak. A lot of the friends, Tony koshas, even garden, we go back years and they’ve been very helpful.

Kevin Corbett (14m 27s):
Another project that also was a county yard Delco, lead storage facilities, origin inspection facility, and the middle of the state down the just below new Brunswick, that’s that $370 million project to be able to take our equipment. Particularly if it’s exposed down by say Hoboken, which is a major terminal or our largest terminal lab, if you’re going into New York, Penn station, the both the Hoboken project and the county yard Delco is way we’re going to have flooding get Hoboken.

Dan Baer (14m 54s):
Cause you know, it’s right on the river and it’s subject to flooding. One thing was to be able to move our equipment, which was well known during Sandy. A lot of our equipment was severely damaged, was flooded. It was flooded in building a yard with the infection, a facility, a higher ground up in the middle of the state. So we can turn around and get that equipment right back out after any severe weather event. And on the Hoboken side, we have $195 million project called long slip. It was an old barge canal, right on the south edge of the yard that then, you know, flooded even without a hurricane that, you know, good nor Easter. And that project is well underway, which is throwing in that canal is almost an old out. Now that’s elevating the platforms and adding six additional tracks as an expansion as well as a resiliency project.

Kevin Corbett (15m 40s):
So those are ones we’ve been moving, you know, sampler and what would moving along as well as a whole batch of the state of good repair projects.

Dan Baer (15m 48s):
And that was a tremendous, tremendous work for the agency.

Kevin Corbett (15m 53s):
Yeah. It’s a positive the PTC. And I know this isn’t meant to be a therapy session, so I’ll try to keep it pretty good. But I think all of us, we’ve all seen that in the transit world, you’d go ups and downs and touchdown. We came in, we were down. But my first day on the job, I got a call from Ron Dettori who just said that, you know, New Jersey, Shannon had not been straightforward and telling them, you know, just how bad situation we were. And that PTC was critical that, you know, the deadline was not flexible and that he did not think we really, the way we were there, there was almost no chance of us making it and that we better have an emergency plan.

Kevin Corbett (16m 36s):
You know, if we’re not allowed to operate on the Northeast quarter, for example, Amtrak president at that time had said, you know, we’re not BTC certified. He would not let us run on the Northeast corridor. Some people were bought out as being grand standing or being difficult. And I was like, no, why should he take that risk? They had Amtrak 180 8. Why would he want to take on that risk? It didn’t make sense. You know, we worked very closely with Ron, his staff, you know, Carolyn Hayward and all the staff I should mention because there’s a long list, but the FRA really helped get us across the line together with, you know, Amtrak played a critical role. The phrase, you know, we, we operate with NS and Conrail, so, and various territory and it really took a team effort.

Kevin Corbett (17m 19s):
But I think what really changed here was that I, I said, we were going to make this, we have to get a team. We got a Warley, you know, had everything up on the walls or can walk in that review, knew exactly what the status was. We were siloed. There were different groups fighting with each other said, no, put us all that first day in a room saying, this is the team that’s going to get it done. You know, forget what’s on your business card with their consultant or their new dirty trans employee. You know, we’re going to get this done. And we called it project Seabiscuit after, you know, the, this famous racehorse and the story, you know, coming from behind tremendous work, a lot of work good and some painful discussions with, with Parsons and Allison, our vendors. And, but we came through that, you know, that much tighter as a team got the commercial issues resolved and just focused on getting it done and a real credit to a tremendous group of people, both internally within the New Jersey transit family, as well as the industry support, we had to get us across the finish line.

Kevin Corbett (18m 13s):
So it was really, you know, we were only 12% installation and we made that a hundred percent installation by December. And we knew we could do that then getting it fully operable and a certified safety plan, et cetera, getting that done by December eight, 20 was still a huge lift. But I think we had the confidence and the credibility to be able to get over that finish line. And I would point out that it is not over. I think a lot of people say, oh, you did PTZ. Congratulations. You know, you sort of check the box and it’s not, it’s an ongoing system. Safety is we always ran safe railroads beforehand. It’s a safety enhancement, but it is a very expensive one.

Kevin Corbett (18m 53s):
And it is not like the fly from here to Seattle. We under the FAA, you have one system nationwide. We still are a, you know, a balkanized system with PTC. It’s, it’s a good, a safe system, but it’s not optimal. And I think look forward to meet Bose and his team. And he’s kind of hit the ground running and is very focused on making sure that PTC is fully realized, but also rationalize. So I think PTC 2.0, you know, you’re still talking billions of dollars of investment that are gonna be going on into the system over the coming years. And certainly with our painful experience, painfully gained experience, we’re glad to be participating, you know, with, with FRA and others in the industry to see that the system really reaches its full potential in a cost effective way.

Dan Baer (19m 41s):
Yeah. I don’t think most individuals will be listening to this podcast will understand that magnet difficult, the achievement that New Jersey transit made in such a short amount of time. And so it, it, it was unbelievable and, and certainly congratulations to you and your tremendous staff for moving this through. And, and I, and I love the analogy of see, coming from behind, but it was all about getting people to work in an integrated fashion, what you have been able to do at New Jersey transit and, or you wouldn’t be seeing the successes that you’re seeing in being able to move these projects and come up with a capital plan in such a quick manner and a capital plan.

Dan Baer (20m 23s):
That’s getting better and better. But, but as you said, Kevin, you know, the thinking never stops and the imagination never stops. And you always have to kind of look into the future and the changes that are going to have to be, and you’re gonna have to be adaptable and you’re gonna have to be flexible. So New Jersey trans, it’s not just thinking about today’s technology. They’re also exploring additional and new and advanced technologies to both the bus, their bus service and their rail service. So let’s talk a little bit about integrating some of those new technologies, such as electric and automated vehicles and the steps that New Jersey transit is taking and recognize that this isn’t, this is a significant investment people don’t understand.

Dan Baer (21m 7s):
It’s not a job. It’s not about buying battery buses, but it’s making a tire transition for your entire service and facilities as well. So talk a little bit about how you’re approaching new technology at New Jersey Transit.

Kevin Corbett (21m 24s):
It’s scary. I think again, you know, I’m a blue and gold officer for the Naval academy and the number one major the Naval academy is cybersecurity. They just built the first building in 40 years. A hopper hall is dedicated to cyber security. So if you look at transportation, everything we do is integrated with technology and, you know, certainly, you know, environmental concerns when you’re talking about and say electrification, last one example, but we really put a lot of resources into building up. We had so much outdated technology software and that wasn’t even supported by vendors anymore. You know, people writing cobalt or languages that were long, long forgotten.

Kevin Corbett (22m 9s):
And so one was upgrading all our systems and that’s a whole field. And then you have, I believe we’re the first transit system just a few months ago. We were ISO certified for cybersecurity first transit system in the country. We have a grid and fossil, our CIO is really, it came from the private sector. Who’s really held up our games and never going to be there. Then there’s a technology in everything, whether it be our locomotives, we just started taking delivery of a twenty-five dual mode locomotives, or we go on the freights with no cotton area, then go back on some of our territory and what these quarter got areas. So, you know, you look at the technology and those, and we’ve ordered 113 new multilevels from Bombardia now Alstom technology that we see in those, those are going to be sets with where they’re going to be self-propelled so that we don’t need to have an engine similar to our old arrows, but you know, the technology advanced air.

Kevin Corbett (23m 3s):
So a lot of, a lot of interesting things that the writers may not necessarily, they sort of take for granted that we’re really upping our game and a number of areas, but on sustainability, as you touched on the bus side, really, you know, we see that we move over half a million people a day by bus pre COVID, but okay. After COVID, we’re already up to about 60 plus percent is coming back very quickly. In the last few weeks, we really see ridership picking up even more so on the weekends. I guess people don’t want to go back to work. They want to, they want to party as always see that, you know, writers are coming back. So we had to prepare for that and the importance we were hit so bad with Sandy, and we’re the most densely populated state. So when you start talking about, you know, air quality and climate know very high concern, as you know, in New Jersey, so a bus electrification, as you touched on, you know, some people say, well, why don’t you just go out?

Kevin Corbett (23m 55s):
We have roughly 2,500 buses in our system, and it’s not like you can go to Walmart and buy 2,500 toasters and just plug them into the wall. I think, you know, working with APTA and predictably, a UIT P the international group based in Brussels, how do we sort of being so far behind it and the groups have that? How could we leapfrog benefit from the experience of others or sort of leapfrog a couple of generations of technology. And we really see that on the bus side, that it’s more about, we’ve learned it’s more about the charging infrastructure. We look at the electric load we’re looking to do, or one of our largest upcoming projects. And our cap plan is a new Northern bus garage that will house 500 buses.

Kevin Corbett (24m 36s):
We just acquired the land moving ahead with that project. And it’s really about laying out. It will be the first bus garage Depot that we have that’s designed to be for full electrification. And, you know, the governor set out an ambitious goal for us to be for the state, his energy master plan, and for us to buy a 20, 40, to be a hundred percent electric buses. This is a key part of getting that infrastructure in place. The buses are important, but they really are almost a secondary issue they’ll evolve. And the technology is improving. And battery storage to me is somewhat similar to the aviation industry, maybe in between 1910 and 1940 years. Things change dramatically, but you need to have runways and the AI on the airline for us, we needed to have the infrastructure.

Kevin Corbett (25m 21s):
So in addition to the Northern bus garage, we’re now looking at 12 other garages we have around the state major garages to look to upgrade them, to install that infrastructure. And it’s a huge, huge cost. It’s going to be billions of dollars for us. And when you think of the industry overall, for all transportation, as you know, vehicles switch over what that means, the electric grid substations. So it’s not just putting in some, some equipment into a bus garage, it really goes right back to working with our public utilities to make sure that they can provide that load. So it’s a massive undertaking.

Dan Baer (25m 56s):
Absolutely. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s upgrading an entire system and actually you guys have a couple of pilot projects looking at, so I appreciate the baby steps that you guys are employing to understand the technology and not just jump into the technology lake, you know, head first. So I think that, I think that process that you’re using is, is appropriate. Absolutely. And, and, and the governor has a mandate. I believe the governor has a mandate by 2040s. He’s looking for a full conversion of least of the bus fleet to electric. So you have to be, suavely smart about those purchases and you’re just not going to throw a bus away.

Dan Baer (26m 38s):
So you have to look at ways that you rotate the buses after their useful life and replace them. So it’s just not like, as you said, you can go out and buy 2,500 toasters at Walmart. There needs to be, there needs to be a process and it has to be a smart implementation process.

Kevin Corbett (26m 54s):
I think that we’re starting to you point out with in Camden Camden and our Newton avenue, bus garage, you know, that’ll be a, the initial program is running eight on select routes. A buses that we have the RP out for the acquisition came out a few months ago. And with options up to 75 more buses in the ideas, you get that, right. When you really test the strengths and weaknesses, you know, the range and cold weather or hot weather, the air condition, but we want to test it on some routes that were, will help ensure that it’s successful. At least the initial one is successful. So I set up sort of the ideal conditions, see what lessons learned, and then you can improve upon that and rolling out throughout the rest of the system. But we’ve seen some cases where it really did not go well, you know, sort of Indianapolis had problems Albuquerque, you know, well-known problems.

Kevin Corbett (27m 40s):
And some of the other systems were reshare and we’ve been very good about sharing lessons learned. And we want to make sure, you know, reliability, you know, with social media, you have one bus break down somewhere in the helix, a blocking Tuttle Lincoln pile going into New York city or rush hour. And, you know, that’ll be, I’ll be, I’ll be working somewhere else. Right. So we’re going to make sure that we do it, do it right, and responsibility so that we have that reliability for that as commuters relies so heavily on us at that, we ensure that reliability is there as we do the transition.

Dan Baer (28m 9s):
It’s great to hear that New Jersey trans certainly is focusing on that and like many other agencies across the United States and taking those appropriate steps. And the fact that you have one of the biggest bus fleets in the United States. So it’s no, it’s no easy thing to, to convert that whole system over to, to a new technology. So we’ll watch out how that all rolls out, but I’m sure you’ll do it in, in an efficient way. So, but Kevin, we talked a little bit about obviously the sustainability side from electric buses and those opportunities. Let’s talk about one of those other pillars, which is equity. And one of the things that keeps you competitive in terms of get getting federal money is the fact that you can define your projects in many ways, ones that meet these three pillars, like equity and sustainability and resiliency.

Dan Baer (29m 3s):
So, but let’s focus a little bit about an equity and, you know, how have you worked with the community to identify those opportunities where you have certain communities that are now underserved and how is New Jersey transit addressing that in some of that really kind of got exposed during the pandemic. You know, maybe there were some areas that weren’t really understood as being ones that are underserved. And once the pandemic came in, those areas kind of got exposed as new new opportunities for addressing the equity issue. So let’s talk about some of those conversations that you’ve had with communities and some of the about that.

Kevin Corbett (29m 42s):
Sure. Dan, and, you know, thanks for pointing that out. You know, it’s been a year now a year plus since the pandemic, but it really drove home very visually. We were down to single digits during the, you know, the height of the pandemic back last April, March, April, may, period, single or low, we are 10, 12% ridership. But those, those people who are riding our system, they did not have an alternative. They didn’t have cars and yet they were providing the central services, hospitals, warehouse, distribution, food, food service, and, you know, the range of essential services that you really saw it. I, you know, I, I take the train from Morristown into north broad street and then take either a bus or light rail or light rail service or to headquarters here by Newark Penn station.

Kevin Corbett (30m 27s):
And, you know, you’d see if I was riding the head end, you’d see, you know, it, a handful of people, a lot of dark period, but they’re all your construction workers. They’re all people who had no alternative. We were the lifeline for them and kept the economy going. So I think that really drove home the point of equity. And we have one of the things that we would governor Murphy and myself really focused on is about diversity and inclusion. We are the most diverse state. And so internally we’ve taken a lot of steps that we’re proud of, really building up, making sure we have a workforce that reflects the state. And it also allows everyone to reach their potential and which benefits us so much. We’ve had a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the agency that have been exciting, I’d say success.

Kevin Corbett (31m 13s):
And frankly fun. As far as for our writers, you know, we look at our bus network redesign, not just taking into electrification ranges, but you know, what are the communities are serving know in January we launched our new bus Newark and your work is the largest city in New Jersey. You know, looking at how we serve that community. And the ultimate goal is to completely reimagine redesign our entire vessel bus network, not just in Newark, but throughout the state and starting in New York, looking at Jersey city, then down, Camden’s next, actually on our docket and the major markets we serve doing it in a way that to make sure that all new Jerseyans, particularly those who are dependent on our bus service and on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum have access to the best possible a transit network can meet their need, whether it be for work or for education or medical visits, whatever services they need and make sure that we are providing them, you know, th the best possible options.

Kevin Corbett (32m 6s):
And then certainly part of the equity you sitting guess that goes over to the environmental side, environmental justice, but that goes into the bus electrification. And we talked about is, you know, how do we improve air quality for a lot of those communities who disproportionately bear the burden from pollution and, and other aspects of impacts with transit

Dan Baer (32m 26s):
A lot of overlap between the, the whole sustainability discussion and the equity discussion as you just noted. And I think that’s important. So let’s play on a little bit of your, your development background as well. You spent with the, probably one of the largest economic development corporations in the United States, when you were in New York many, many, many years ago, I had the opportunity to work with New Jersey transit and preparing the developing probably the first guidance document for developing around transit stations, that beautiful kind of pink, you know, document. And I understand it’s also being updated right now.

Dan Baer (33m 6s):
And I know a number of other agencies borrowed that document probably used most of that document for their guidance as well. So let’s talk about New Jersey transit’s success and partnering with local jurisdictions, because that’s not an easy thing because home rule is very strong in New Jersey to advance some significant transit oriented development projects, right?

Kevin Corbett (33m 29s):
As you know, the New York side for economic development purposes, as I said earlier, you know, transportation is the key, and this is not breaking news, the Herrmann family. We’re going to realize that when they did that, they created the union Pacific and that there was really a real estate company masquerading as a transportation company. You know, they made a fortune in the real estate side, but, you know, with the public sector with transit, sort of having that, that separation, having occurred over, you know, decades about a century that reconnecting that, that connection between real estate development cab value cap, capturing that value for communities for the state. But also we need to make sure if we’re transit agencies, we have to remember that value too, which is sort of a, another offshoot discussion, but, you know, to the degree that we can accelerate and you’re quite right, you were part of the, that Seminole work, which is still it’s being updated.

Kevin Corbett (34m 23s):
But to really, how can we facilitate in New York, they have eminent domain or the state can override local zoning. We don’t have that New Jersey, it’s a home rule state. So we really have to work. You know, we have a template just sort of like with our capital plan that you haven’t standard, you’re trying to standardize and designed as much as possible, you know, so that it allows you to sort of roll out. They have to tell her to, you know, in certain circumstances champion on the real estate, that part of that for you really is the seminal template for how we can develop within the framework that we have in New Jersey with, as a home rule state. So we were able to do that and beef up the staff to really capture and promote DRD, maximize the amount of residential leisure space, all the environmental benefits you’ve got.

Kevin Corbett (35m 10s):
I know the regional plan association, the RPA had done a study years ago that showed the value of how property values went up near our station. When we introduced Midtown direct service on our 18%, 18% of back. When, you know, you have those that good, you provide good, reliable transit. That means property, values, and taxes for those communities. We want to make sure that we help prime the pump for the state, but also get some value capture for ourselves out of that. And we have a number of following that template. We really accelerated, but bringing the right staff with the kind of business business experience, you know, how to, you know, get deals and work with the development community, but to get to close time is money, and you want to capture the real estate market while it’s hot.

Kevin Corbett (35m 52s):
You know, it goes in cycles and we’ve been able to bring on a good team under bill, the carer I’m CFO, Carmen Tavarez, who oversees our real estate group to really drive that, you know, these kinds of transit village initiative.

Dan Baer (36m 5s):
Yeah. I, I was one of the beneficiaries of that improvement and one of those ones who realized that 18%. So thank you. And you’re now, I mean, New Jersey now is moving on projects that are also incorporating the private sector, and you are looking at some ambitious opportunities, particularly at Metro park and community PI avenue in Jersey city to integrate the private sector into these transit oriented development. So kind of a public private type of situation. So this is interesting. This is new for New Jersey transit had been done on the previous administration, but now you’re looking at the private sector to play a role in some of this, some of these opportunities.

Dan Baer (36m 56s):
So can we talk a little bit about that?

Kevin Corbett (36m 58s):
Yeah, sure. And, you know, it’s, it’s exciting, you know, in the real estate community, it’s a, you know, they, it’s our hard ball community. They don’t want to hear about something five, 10 years when I was like, okay, what’s the market we’re going to capture this window. You know, do they have a partner who understands how they operate? You know, you go back and forth. But the main thing is to get, to get close, to get success. And we see that as you mentioned, there’s, Matawan Metro park, of course is a big, you know, of the old surface parking, open service parking lot, right next to a major train station that certainly obviously has obvious potential for both us and for development and having it be now transit-oriented development right next to a station. And it’s, to me is a no brainer, Somerville, a Somerville.

Kevin Corbett (37m 40s):
We did a, that’s now underway. That’s a several hundred units also working with Elcor down in Hoboken terminal to help fund. You know, we have a beautiful historic stationery as the governor was saying, what is, what is wrong with this place? Looks like it’s falling down and hasn’t been, and it should be a crown jewel for us. So working with a developer there where they do a residential and mixed use housing, right along some of the underutilized property we had in our yard there, but allows us to fund and we’ll be rehabbing and really making it look like agenda again with a lot of cool event space, the historic Hoboken ferry terminal, which is the head house and, you know, for, for our largest terminal, right across from lower Manhattan, a dramatic setting.

Kevin Corbett (38m 24s):
So there’s, you know, a number of projects, both large and small, a Morristown there’s several developments, right underway that we’re partnering with local developers on overall. And we have several, several thousand units of housing underway at a number of our, these developments along, you know, our right of ways.

Dan Baer (38m 41s):
Let me ask you one more question about that. A New Jersey transit and the state in New Jersey recognized the importance of some of these major generators that we have throughout the state. One of those is potentially American dream and the metal lands on a sports complex that has a football stadium or race, track, and arena that’s not in use right now, but could be in the future and the potential for other types of development, huge economic engine. Right. Let’s talk a little bit about the importance of providing good transportation and conductivity to major economic generators like American dream.

Dan Baer (39m 22s):
You guys are focused on that, and it’s an opportunity that you’re moving forward on.

Kevin Corbett (39m 27s):
Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s a good thing, example, I mean, and putting together our capital plan and doing all those baseline assessments to get that put together, of course, focus is we’re so far behind the eight ball was the state of good repair. Obviously, first and foremost, when we started looking at meeting the future growth and we haven’t talked much about it, you know, gateway to the whole, you know, the tunnel and the expansion, New York, Penn station, that’s all mother, you know, altogether $30 billion worth of projects already, you know, the next decade plus, but now was that kind of funding really, you know, it was where, you know, clearly federal role, but as far as expansion or upgrading, the American dream is a huge, you know, it’s small America is and moved east and right, there are Meadowlands next to giant stadium or MetLife stadium.

Kevin Corbett (40m 11s):
Now it called, but, and we have a basic rail service out there and bus service, but we, you know, they ask us, Eddie board chair was saying, Hey, what can we do that beyond our state of good repair? We may not have money for it, but look at a potential P three opportunity and innovation talent, put that out, out to the industry. And we launched the, you know, two years ago, a initiative on these innovation challenges. And that is certainly one of the, the biggest one of how, how can we move significantly more people per hour out to expand our service level out to the metal LANSA complex. And that’s firstly I would have been doing and making sure that the service we do provide to MetLife is a first-class service, or we put a lot effort.

Kevin Corbett (40m 55s):
You’ve got to include even engineers. One of the things when I came in, we didn’t know we had, had not been training engineers for years, or we were way below the critical need of engineers. So it’s taken a few years to build that rank up. So we’re doing the basic, you know, we’re now got that those, those hurdles cross, but when we had taken the next notch providing, you know, a first-class and expanded service to the Meadowlands, then that, that really is looking at these kinds of challenges. What, what new technology that’s out there that can really allow us to treat that as a separate initiative and bring in private capital where, you know, you know, our priority is our day-to-day commuters, but we also want to facilitate that kind of economic growth, you know, in those, those centers, like you touched on.

Dan Baer (41m 37s):
I mean, it’s, it’s an, a regional national attraction. You’re going to get people in nationally internationally to become to the, to the complex talking 5,000 employees at day throughout the day, 30 to 50,000 visitors and customers a day at, at American dream. Once it starts rolling again, you know, the reason why I bring it up is that it’s real transit oriented development. That’s what it’s all about. It’s being able to provide the adequate level of capacity to serve something like that. So I’m not going to let you get away today without answering a couple of questions about recovery and the pandemic, and like all agencies around the country you’ve experienced, you know, S some levels of decline in ridership, both on the rail and bus side.

Kevin Corbett (42m 28s):
And some of the ridership has returned. You talked about how you, you started to see that really come back on the buses, but what has New Jersey transit been doing to bring those customers back to the rails and to the bikes? Dan is hard to believe has been a, you know, just a bit over a year. And you look at the ride, the whole world, all nation venture with a pandemic, but one of the things has always been very good relationship with labor on us rail at both sides. And, you know, they were very helpful for us just even securing PPE. We worked with union leadership that national network, you know, they could help us when the state had a chronic shortage of PPE. So main thing was making sure that all our employees you’ve got to work. You need to make sure you can get home back to your family safer.

Kevin Corbett (43m 10s):
So that was, you know, first and foremost, but obviously also for our writers. So is that I said there were some who had no choice. So we had to make it that we, we were, I believe the first agency that went to daily standard, a sanitizing of all our rolling stock and all our buses put up restricted areas on the buses. We didn’t like many other agencies, you know, rear door boarding for a period of time as securing off. So the drivers that minimize your closing, but also putting a governor had a number of executive orders, limiting the number of people, you know, 50% capacity on buses, outstanding rail. We never really had that problem with capacity because the ridership was so low. So it wasn’t a, that was not a challenge, but we had to make sure everyone felt that it was safe and it was clean facilities were safe and clean.

Kevin Corbett (43m 54s):
You know, we had a mass forest work together with pat Ford at the MTA and the port authority with the cotton, you know, to get their combined marketing of how for the commuters, whether they take us and that’s, which are we’re in New York city, subway really want to get the word out that we were saving, that we were taking all measures, forcing, you know, all the, the, the current CDC and state health and even exceeding then a number of cases that we had to shape them, J recall the communications campaign. And we also did things that go out or make it easier for customers to come back or come back. We creating a flex pass. So 20 trip ticket discounted 20% of as good for 30 days, any 30 days a year. You know, we have a monthly, but it was not everyone knew where they’re going to be going to work at a month and when they’re going to go.

Kevin Corbett (44m 38s):
So, you know, that has been successful with Madam solid, more than 30,000 flight fast. And we spent a lot work with our academics, Princeton, Rutgers Cait center for advanced infrastructure and technology, to look at all the different options. You’d be lighting, you know, we’re killing. So we really that we had made a campaign now, as we were coming out of it, we provided free ride. We working with public private partnership with Novartis and several other companies to fund a free transit, NJ transit to wherever you were going to get vaccinated. The various vaccine news centers, we had a creative backside, had a comprehensible.

Kevin Corbett (45m 19s):
We have a comprehensive searchable database so that people know how to go from where they are. Like I said, phase two was two round trip. Tickets posed visually, there were two, you know, two shots. And that was with Novartis and Catalan transit tech. We also worked with transit tech and you know, that lab partnership regarding HPAC filtration solutions. We also gave us a good excuse frankly, to really accelerate our contact lists, fair payment technologies worked with unions on that for putting onboard bus validators and held mobile devices for the train crews to be able to scan the tickets and the I-phones and also, you know, modernize our ticket vending machines so that there with the contactless payment options.

Kevin Corbett (46m 0s):
One other thing I think that was really fun that we did though, was also, now that we’re coming back, we had launched a campaign last month for all the while you’ve been, while you’ve been away. And, you know, Anthony, Greg and his team are doing a great job of getting that out and it out. So we created a, a reward program called NJT rewards. You weren’t points as you, as you’re buying tickets and as redeemable local businesses. So that really helps the local businesses, restaurants, et cetera, as they’re coming back, you know, you’ve got the push notification you have on your iPhone, you get the rewards program, you know, what your rewards are. And it gives you discounts at both the tourist destination, like the Intrepid museum, or, you know, Liberty science center, as well as restaurants and other retail outlets.

Kevin Corbett (46m 43s):
Yeah. It makes it fun. We’ve gotten the initial very strong feedback that the customers already homeless, 10,000 customers sign up since we opened it and April, and then we have 50 businesses and growing quickly restaurants, shopping, destinations, entertainment, venues, et cetera. So that’s something that also came out of trying to be a little more inventive, you know, as we need to get on riders path.

Dan Baer (47m 7s):
It’s amazing. It’s amazing, out of real bad times. Great things can happen. What I can see is great. Things are happening with New Jersey transit. My last question you is that during the pandemic, we did see some changes in the demographics. We saw some out migration, some in migration people seeking opportunities where they could be socially distant buying houses with yards and things like that. Certainly something that New Jersey transit is going to have to think about as people return to riding the trains and return, continue to return to riding the buses that, you know, maybe we have a little different demographic, you know, situation here with new residents, who’ve replaced other residents.

Dan Baer (47m 56s):
And not that we’ve had a lot of development, but with certainly we have had a lot of people move out from New York city and seeking opportunities to live a little bit differently. So I know that you guys are looking into that you’re you’re monitoring how changes are occurring along the rail lines in particular, in terms of ridership, because of some of these demographic changes, I’m assuming that that will continue on, on a regular basis as well.

Kevin Corbett (48m 23s):
No, absolutely. And I think, you know, I have three children, one just graduated from college and is eager to be working in New York city or landed a job there the other year, couple of years out of college. And there’s a certain period of your life where you want to be where the action is, but then once you to start living in a city, and if you have more than one job, or until you start looking at a whole bunch of issues that go with that, all of a sudden, I think, you know, people are having children perhaps later in life. But I guess to a certain point, I can depend on and really help saying, Hey, you know, the suburbs have been rediscovered, but fundamentally, you know, our population, we, I, I w anticipate calling lead and, you know, whether it be one year, two years, and, you know, we don’t know exactly when we’ll be back to a a hundred percent ridership population in New Jersey has been going from the last sentence or the most densely populated as you well know, you can’t build any more highways if you can’t get out of it, you know, riders will be coming back to you, even if they didn’t want to come back.

Kevin Corbett (49m 15s):
You, you here at the Lincoln and Holland tunnel, the George Washington bridge, 45 minutes to an hour delay. You know, people they’ll come back to us just because of that. So we have to be prepared to, you know, well, you know, we’re welcoming back. I think we’re in good shape. You’re walking back with her, you know, now having a workforce rebuilt the workforce, critically our frontline workforce, you know, bus drivers, you know, you’re competing with, for commercial driver’s license with Amazon ups, all that. So, you know, we have to stay on our, on our edge and make sure we a full compliment of rail crews and bus drivers. But when we start looking at how do we really optimize the system? I have no doubt that we’re, you know, being the most densely populated state and serving Philadelphia to the south New York north, that there’s, there’s going to be plenty to keep us very busy and the ridership will be robust so that we’re watching those trends and see how we can maximize and make the experiences pleasant as possible for those who need us for whether it be work or pleasure.

Dan Baer (50m 10s):
Listen Kevin, the fact that you took an hour with us today on this podcast, I have to say from your extremely busy schedule, I know with everything that’s happening, I have the opportunity to work very closely with many of your staff on the capital plan. So I know what you guys are doing. I want to thank you for the time you’ve taken today to tell us about the rebirth of New Jersey transit under your guidance. And I congratulate you for that. And I hope sometime soon that I can see you in person, we’re starting to all obviously open up here and I see that you’re, you’re in the office and I will come by soon to say hello. And, and, but most importantly, thank you for your time today.

Dan Baer (50m 51s):
And, and I want to thank revolution for this opportunity to create this podcast. Please, let’s see all, everybody at the revolution conference in October and Kevin, any parting words for us today?

Kevin Corbett (51m 4s):
Dan that as always a pleasure again, can’t wait to see you next time you come, come, come into Newark. Always great to get together. But I would say is a very exciting time. As you touched on working with our capital group to be at Newbury transit, you know, a lot of bright new talent coming in and where the pandemic coming out of it really exciting. And I hope that that is true for, you know, all the agencies, people at other agencies are working with other agencies, and then they feel that it’s, you know, it’s a great career. It’s a great industry. It’s not one that gets the high profile attention that, you know, maybe wall street or tech, you know, Google, whatever it does, but certainly you and I know we’ve had great careers in it and very rewarding for years, really, we needed the next generation.

Kevin Corbett (51m 49s):
And that’s what I really look on is really institutional having best practices here and get the next generation and, and letting people get the word out about what a great industry we’re we’re in. Now, we need to keep attracting, you know, a new talent into it.

Dan Baer (52m 4s):
I agree. And Kevin, again, thank you very much for your leadership. Continue to look forward to working with New Jersey transit, a real engine in terms of not only transportation, but leading development and growth in the New York, New Jersey metropolitan region. So I like to just leave this podcast today to say we wish everybody a good day and good health. And again, thank you very much. This is Dan Baer at WSP. Thanks.

Kevin Corbett (52m 40s):
Thank you, Dan.

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