Earlier this week, New Jersey Transit formally approved a 9 percent fare hike, and some service cuts, to close a $56 million budget gap. New Jersey's leading transportation expert believes the agency's budget gap next year may be much larger and a more significant fare hike may have to be adopted.

NJ Transit trains (Annette Petriccione, Townsquare Media NJ)

According to Martin E. Robins, the founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, the way in which public transit operations are funded has changed in recent years.

Vorhees said it had been largely funded by money from the general fund, but that is no longer the case and there are funding sources that could be drastically cut or disappear next year.

"There's $292 million that is coming from the New Jersey Turnpike, that is expected to end at the end of the fiscal year that just began, so that next year we would have, we could have a $292 million deficit as a starter,  and then things could go worse," he said.

Robins said several labor contracts that have been expired for three and four years will very likely be settled and that could result in tens of millions of dollars of additional deficit, and the state's Transportation Trust Fund is nearly broke and still doesn't have a dedicated funding source moving forward.

He said while fares increased 9 percent this year "in the worst case scenario you could see triple that in 2017 fiscal year. It would be a terrible hardship and it would be a jolt, and I can't even tell you a tripling would be the maximum, it could even be more than that."

He said we have a very substantial public transportation system that has been built up for decades, but it is now facing a decline because of shaky funding gimmicks being used.

"New Jersey's public transportation system gives us a competitive advantage compared to other parts of the country and it's very important to properly fund it otherwise that advantage will disappear," he said. "I feel very worried about the future of public transportation in New Jersey."