New Jersey has the third highest percentage of commuters that use public transportation, behind only New York and the District of Columbia. NJ Transit is the largest statewide public transit system in the United States covering more than 5000 square miles of service area. Given this tremendous expanse and scope, the role of NJ Transit in upholding superior environmental and sustainability standards cannot be overstated. Indeed, NJ Transit is a founding signatory of The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Sustainability Commitment. APTA states "Sustainability, preserving the environment, being socially responsible and maintaining economic vitality, with an overall contribution to quality of life, is integral to what we do and what we provide as the public transportation industry." Sustainability Commitment is a voluntary pledge taken by a transit agency to establish core internal processes and actions that set the basis for continuous improvement on environmental, social and economic sustainability. The pledge requires the agency's commitment to adhere to core sustainability principles and fulfillment of increasingly ambitious sustainability goals and action items, including but not limited to: making sustainability a part of the organization's strategic objective; establishing an employee outreach program that engages staff on realizing the organization's sustainability goals; undertaking a sustainability inventory of the organization; and providing the transit industry with products and services that contribute to sustainability.
Despite being a founding signatory, NJ Transit holds only an entry level designation in APTA's Sustainability Commitment agency list, although many environmental, energy and sustainability initiatives have been implemented or are ongoing. This might be attributed to the absence of an interconnecting platform and a guiding document in the form of a formal Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP). Hence, it is in NJ Transit's best interest to develop an SSP to guide, track, measure, and publicize its sustainability efforts. Although several SSPs exist that have been developed by other mass transit agencies, each agency's situation is unique, and their priorities and needs are different. Consequently, an empirical research-based approach involving a diverse set of stakeholders should be adopted in order to develop an SSP that is aligned to the unique issues, initiatives, and priorities of NJ Transit. This research will be performed by graduate students in the Sustainability Management program of Stevens Institute of Technology and in the Environmental Policy program of New Jersey Institute of Technology in direct consultation with staff in NJ Transit's Department of Environment, Energy, and Sustainability. The final outcome would be a comprehensive "living" document that will provide a clear roadmap and necessary tools for NJ Transit to continuously assess and improve upon a series of sustainability goals.