After frustrated and disgruntled riders wrote to their representatives regarding the abrupt cancellation of a local bus route, at a press conference on Oct. 6, city and state officials called on Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Transit to step in.
According to Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, it began late last week when A&C Bus Corp. notified the city via email that it would be canceling the No. 31 bus line from Danforth Avenue to the Newport Mall.
Residents rely on the bus to get from the city’s west side to other parts of Jersey City and to connections to New York City via the ferry or Path service.
“The 31 Newport Mall bus is the only bus leaving the Newport Mall area to transport me and others back and forth to work, doctors appointments, shopping, visiting family and friends, and not to mention the home health aides who have patients,” said resident LaTrenda Ross.
While A&C Bus Corp. refused to comment, Mayor Steven Fulop said the company indicated that it was forced to make the cut due to the pandemic and its financial ramifications.
He and other officials called on NJ Transit to help, either by absorbing the route or assisting financially, noting that the agency was notified of an award of federal CARES Act relief funding of up to $1.4 billion.
“I am appalled that NJ Transit will receive $1.4 billion in federal aid from the CARES Act and then refuse to share it with private bus carriers,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. “The routes that these companies run are critical to residents.”
“From our standpoint, it’s not fair to leave this community without transportation that they rely upon, and when NJ Transit took hundreds of millions in dollars of relief on the CARES Act front, we view it as their responsibility to either support the private vendors or, better yet, to assume the roles themselves so that we don’t have to have this conversation once a year.”
Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalotti said the transportation system is crumbling.
“This is a simple issue of equity,” he said. “The reality is that it’s the government’s job, one of the few things the government should be focused on is providing accessible, affordable, and safe transportation.”
NJ Transit can’t absorb the routes
“NJ TRANSIT has supported and continues to support the private carriers’ efforts to obtain emergency relief funding from Congress,” said NJ Transit spokesperson Lisa Torbic. “We have written a letter of support to our federal delegation and briefed them on this issue, and we continue to work with the trade association that represents the private carriers as Congress debates further aid.
“Unfortunately, NJ TRANSIT does not have the resources to absorb additional routes. Many customers along the 31 route have alternate travel options utilizing existing NJ TRANSIT services such as the No. 80 bus along West Side Ave., the No. 86 Route or the HBLR.”
Private carriers are not certified by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to directly receive federal funds like CARES Act funds under the Federal Grants Program. NJ Transit can request funds from the FTA, on an as-needed basis, but only after substantiating operating losses to the FTA.
After public pushback the No. 31 bus is operating, on a Sunday schedule, which some say is not good enough.
“That doesn’t help someone like me who needs the bus starting at 7 a.m.,” said Ross, noting that the first bus wouldn’t leave Danforth Avenue until 8:30 a.m.
Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro said that wouldn’t help those with multiple jobs who are struggling.
“I’m a single mom. I grew up in the housing authority. I know what it’s like to struggle to get from job to job to keep the hustle going,” Chaparro said. “To wake up and to find out that your bus line, that your only bus line, is going to be gone and you don’t even know that until you wait at the bus stop … a Sunday schedule for Monday through Friday will not work. That doesn’t work for struggling families.”
Jersey City’s west and south sides have been called “transit deserts,” particularly after A&C Bus Corp’s. No. 4 bus line from Greenville to Newport ended roughly a year ago. The city has attempted to help subsidize the transportation needs of the community through its new partnership with Via.
But: “There’s only so much we can do to subsidize the bus lines that we are missing,” said Councilwoman Denise Ridley who represents Ward A. “It is imperative that my residents in Ward A have access to the rest of the city … We need cooperation, we’re tired of empty promises, and we need New Jersey Transit to step up. We need collaboration with our private bus companies, so we can get as much transportation as we can get here in Jersey City.”
Mayor Steven Fulop said that the modified service could be the company’s first step to closing the line altogether.
According to the A&C Bus Corp. website, the No. 30, No. 32, and No. 33, are also on modified Sunday schedules.
Chiaravalloti said he plans to reintroduce a bill this year that would require private bus companies have public hearings before they can change their service, like NJ Transit. NJ Transit has contracts with many private bus companies.