Secaucus gets a jitney bus: NJ Transit and federal officials fund transportation project
For years, Secaucus officials have dreamed of providing a bus service in town to help residents to get to shopping malls, the center of town, and out-of-the-way areas. This week, thanks to NJ Transit and a new federally-funded program, that dream is closer to becoming a reality. Set against the recently-restored train station in Clifton, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th Dist.) and NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey A. Warsh announced Monday the first round of recipients of jitney buses for the stateside "Community Shuttle Program." The Community Shuttle Program is an initiative that enables communities throughout the state to offer jitney bus service to their residents who use NJ Transit trains and buses. The use of shuttles improves access to local train and bus stations while easing traffic congestion, alleviating the need for the construction of new parking facilities and helping to cut air-pollution. As part of the deal, NJ Transit will provide a shuttle bus to Secaucus. The town will pay nothing for the vehicle - valued at $70,000. But it will be responsible for maintaining it, supplying the manpower to operate it, and making certain stops during peak hours, such as covering the NJ Transit trains. The program would allow the town to charge a fee for the service, which would be used to offset local costs of maintaining the bus and paying the drivers. Adams said the cost would likely be $1 per ride. Since the town's Department of Public Works also does auto-repair, maintenance will cost less. "We promised to find innovative ways to provide more services to the community without increasing taxes," Mayor Dennis Elwell said. "This is one of those innovations." According to NJ Transit, the Secaucus shuttle bus will provide service between residential neighborhoods and Harmon Cove rail station. This shuttle service could eventually serve the Secaucus Rail Transfer Station when it opens in the summer of 2002. According to town officials, the shuttle can be used off-peak for community events. The town is developing a plan to use the bus to transport some students to the high school, and for increased transportation of town residents to the community's outlet centers, and for other similar services, Elwell said. Started off
In 1995, then-councilman and now-Mayor Elwell and Councilman John Reilly tried to work out a plan with NJ Transit that would provide a subsidized bus route in town. That action was prompted when NJ Transit decided to discontinue its No. 85 bus service, which came into the heart of Secaucus. A committee from the Town Council met with NJ Transit officials looking for alternatives. NJ Transit offered to provide a bus in a joint venture with the town if the town would pay for it. NJ transit even offered to throw in fares collected to help lower the cost. But cost estimates and difficulties determining the route foiled the effort. Elwell and Reilly again looked into the project in 1997 with the help of James Adams of The Funding Group, who helped shape plans for Hudson County TMA. "Back then, Dennis [Elwell] and I were political opponents, but we knew this kind of service was important to the town," Reilly said, after Elwell accepted the symbolic key from NJ Transit and federal officials at Monday's press conference. Elwell has constantly urged the council to seek help from federal legislators in order to help lobby NJ Transit. This year, Adams contacted NJ Transit when he heard that its community transportation program was going to be expanded. Congressmen Pascrell and Donald M. Payne (D-10th Dist.) have secured $3 million in federal funds from the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) for this initial year of the Community Shuttle Program. An additional $3.5 million is expected to fund the second year of the transportation project. Pascrell, a member of the House of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the struggle to get this funding in congress involved making legislators from uncongested segments of the country understand the need in urban areas for this kind of service. Started small but still growing
Ken Miller, senior public information officer for corporate communications for NJ Transit, said the program started in Maplewood as part of something called the "Challenge Program." under which NJ Transit gave the township a bus and start-up money to launch the service. "Maplewood had a very limited parking area," Miller said. "Adding a parking deck is not always the answer." By providing a service that can pick up and drop off people at the train stations in various communities, NJ Transit hopes to reduce both the demand for parking around the stations as well as the increase of individual cars pulling into already congested areas. Seeing the success of the program in Maplewood, NJ Transit expanded to six other communities, and now has expanded it again to 18 communities. Over 90 communities expressed an interest in the program, with 33 towns applying. Warsh said the problem with increasing parking spaces is that someone will always fill them, and the more parking that is provided, the more cars come into the area. "With the rapidly growing popularity of NJ Transit's train and bus service, the Community Shuttle Program is not a mere novelty," Pascrell said. "This will make a real difference for the mom who takes the train to the city to get to work every day ... Her commute to work will be eased. Our air quality will be improved. [This will] allow [her to] spend an extra 20 minutes at the dinner table or reading to her kids, instead of hassling in traffic and the parking lot." During the hours 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, the shuttle would be required to cover certain NJ Transit stops, such as the Secaucus Plaza Center, as well as regular bus stops along regular routes and the Harmon Cove Rail Station. "Outside of those hours, we would be able to determine the route," Iacono said. "On weekends, we could use the shuttle to bring people to town activities." This may offer a solution to problems that have plagued the town for years, such as the influx of cars from the outer parts of town to the Plaza and to the rail station. While the residential parking program eliminated out-of-town commuters from the limited parking spaces in the center of town, Secaucus residents outside regular bus routes often have to park their cars in the center. Business owners complained that customers during the day lacked parking spaces, contributing to a decline of shopping in the Plaza. Drive to the center
NJ Transit figures show that bus service in Secaucus has been rising from 1.5 to 2 percent a year, adding incentive to provide the service to Secaucus. "Right now, if someone wanted to get to New York, they would either have to drive to the center of town to take a bus or drive to the train station to catch a train," Iacono said recently. Iacono and Adams said they worked out a schedule and route to submit with the application. "What we proposed is a one-hour route, tied to all the major shopping venues and Harmon Cove train station," Adams said. Adams said the town of Secaucus is served by seven bus routes and one rail station, but segments of the town are still out of reach, such as the northend and areas near Secaucus Road. He also said direct service does not have a direct connection to the Harmon Cove rail station. "I have said repeatedly that our system of transportation is about much more than getting from point A to point B," said Pascrell. "It is about improving the qualify of life for people of New Jersey." Although Secaucus has the good fortune of being centrally located, with Route 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike nearby, Pascrell noted that the future of transportation in the state must go beyond bigger highways. "We cannot simply continue to add lane upon lane to our highways and byways," he said. "Rather, we have no alternative but to expand the access to - and use of - mass transportation. That is what the Community Shuttle Program is all about and I am ecstatic that this ground-breaking initiative is being significantly expanded throughout the Garden State."