It was a sunny day in late July when a jitney bus driver knocked over a pole on Boulevard East in West New York, sending it onto and killing an infant, Angelie Paredes of North Bergen, who was in her stroller. The vehicle’s operator was allegedly texting at the time of the incident.
A week ago Friday, about 70 people, including area legislators, union officials, and bus company employees, rallied in support of “Angelie’s Law,” a measure seeking to mandate more oversight of the jitney and commuter bus trade.
The event was held on Friday, Nov. 15 at 56th Street and Boulevard East in West New York, the site of the tragic death of the 8-month-old on July 30.
Angelie’s Law would increase state oversight of jitney buses, requiring them to adhere to stricter guidelines. The bill is still in committee on the Senate side, according to Dominique Petrillo, chief legislative aide to State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, prime sponsor of the bill.
Discussions are under way with the Motor Vehicle Commission and Department of Transportation, Petrillo confirmed.
“The specifics of the bill are still being determined and the legislation has not yet been finalized, however it is a priority that we expect to see moving forward soon,” said Phil Swibinski, a Sacco spokesman.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto of Secaucus said that, besides the fact that some jitneys and private commuter buses are not properly licensed or serviced, there are underinsured drivers.
“[We] are working with the division of motor vehicles to check to see [they’re] properly equipped, they’re properly trained, and that the right person is operating the vehicle,” he said.
The event was sponsored by the Amalgamated Transit Union New Jersey State Joint Council.
Speakers included Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, D-32, of Secaucus, a sponsor of the legislation, Mayor Felix Roque of West New York, and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) State Business Agent Ray Greaves, who is also a Bayonne councilman.
“It breaks my heart. I used to ride my bike down the street here. My son, Emmanuel, I used to walk him in the stroller here.” – Pablo Gonzalez
Greaves, whose union represents NJ Transit bus employees, touted his brethren over those of the jitney lines, saying his company ensures that their workers have their commercial driver’s licenses, go through in-depth training and strict testing, and have all of their travel records recorded.
The jitney buses are direct competition for the NJ Transit drivers, transporting New Jersey residents across the Hudson River into Manhattan.
“It’s a growing problem with our buses, creating a lot of issues for pedestrians and traffic,” Greaves said, causing Assemblyman Charles Mainor of Jersey City, D-31, to introduce legislation on the matter one year ago.
Greaves said that along with Mainor, Prieto, and Sacco in Trenton, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and U.S. Representative Albio Sires, D-14, are working at the federal level to increase oversight of the jitneys and other commuter buses.
Pablo Gonzalez, president of ATU Local 820 and formally of Union City, was nearby the day of the accident.
“I was five minutes away when it happened,” he said. “It breaks my heart. I used to ride my bike down the street here. My son, Emmanuel, I used to walk him in the stroller here.”
Roque said that the more safeguards put into place, the better.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “As a doctor, I can say that. We need to let the people know we’re still on it. New laws have to be passed.”
Prieto sat on the state’s Transportation Committee for nearly 10 years, and said he is working hard to have the situation rectified.
“This is an ongoing issue, which we have to get our arms around,” said Prieto. “I guarantee we’ll get regulations in place to make everybody safe.”
The Assembly speaker-elect said that the problem of unsafe conditions cannot be curbed without the help of national lawmakers, since the bus companies cross state lines when transporting commuters.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.