Angelie died after a driver—allegedly talking on a cell phone—crashed and caused a light pole to hit the child’s stroller.
Rep. Albio Sires said Angelie was “the victim of a senseless tragedy” involving a commuter charter bus (known as jitneys).
While Sires said he will meet with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to review the inspection and review process, the accident and death have prompted serious discussions throughout Hudson County on how to curb abuses that have plagued the Jitney bus system since its inception in the late 1980s.
State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that inspections done by North Bergen found conditions were grotesque, including lack of or expired drivers’ licenses, lack of insurance coverage, and poorly maintained vehicles.
Jitneys have become a popular alternative to NJ Transit buses. Not only are they less expensive than NJ Transit, Jitneys often operate more frequently during rush hour, providing quicker access to Manhattan and Hudson County.
But inspections conducted by state and city officials in North Bergen, Bayonne. and elsewhere often uncover serious safety and other violations, and jitneys often disregard local regulations prohibiting bus traffic on certain streets in order to bypass traffic jams and other obstacles.
While the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department has instituted vigorous traffic stops since Angelie’s death, county officials warn that a policy of stopping these vehicles without probable cause could leave the county open to legal challenges.
An attempt by the county to better regulate jitney buses several years ago resulted in a mass protest by jitney drivers and a legal opinion that these buses fell under the jurisdiction of state DMV and federal agencies, not the county.
“We need to have probable cause to crack down on the jitneys,” said Anthony Romano, chairman of the Hudson County Freeholders, and a retired police captain from Hoboken. “Any stopping of these vehicles has to be done in cooperation with the state Division of Motor Vehicles.”
Bayonne Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell said Bayonne—after hearing residents concerns about jitneys—hooked up with the DMV to begin inspecting the jitneys that operate along the JFK Boulevard corridor.
“We did two series of inspections,” O’Donnell said. “In one case we took 14 vehicles off the road and issued 118 summonses.”
In two series of inspections conducted earlier this year Bayonne police worked in conjunction with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Bus Inspection Unit.
“My Administration and the Bayonne Police Department carried out these operations as a result of complaints from the public about problems they have witnessed with various mass transit vehicles in Bayonne,” said Mayor Mark Smith at the time. “My Administration is very concerned about maintaining vehicular safety, so that we can protect the lives of our residents. We have taken effective action to keep the roads safe for passengers, pedestrians, and drivers.”
Last week, Councilman Ray Greaves—who represents union members for the public transit system in New Jersey and currently is a member of the North Jersey Transit Planning Authority—said he has been working on solutions to the problem of jitney inspections for months.
“We do need to do something about these vehicles,” he said, noting that the problem is countywide as shown by Angelie’s death.
Police Chief Ralph Scianni said the Bayonne Police Department is working within the city borders to curb possible safety issues, noting that in one of the two inspections earlier this year 169 summonses were issued.
In another inspection conducted in May, 65 more summonses were issued.
“We can’t just shut them down,” said O’Donnell. “But if these jitneys are going to use our streets, we have to scrutinize them the way we would any other business operating in the city to make sure that they are operating safely and within the law.”
Freeholder Chairman Romano said the matter is being reviewed by the Freeholder Public Safety Committee to determine the range of solutions the Sherriff’s Department can offer since many of these jitneys operate on county roads.
Rep. Sires, meanwhile, said as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee he will be working with his congressional colleagues as well as local and state officials to see what legislation can be created to ensure that all jitney drivers are properly licensed and trained and all vehicles meet safety standards.
“As elected officials we have to make certain that the operators are held responsible so that this senseless tragedy that took place [in West New York] doesn’t happen again,” Sires said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.