Residents packed the basement of the Monumental Baptist Church on Lafayette Street in the Bergen-Lafayette section on Monday after certain bus lines to Journal Square, Grove Street and Newport Mall were cut.
Attendees were in up in arms because a bus company - the Elizabeth-based Coach USA Red and Tan of Hudson County - has cut, rerouted, or eliminated service on several of its lines in recent months.
Coach USA representatives said in recent reports that the cuts in the bus service were due to rising fuel and insurance costs and drops in ridership.
In particular, the problems affected bus numbers 4, 16, and 99, which embark from the Merritt Street station located near the Jersey City/Bayonne border and travel throughout the city to one of three final destinations: Journal Square, Grove Street, or Newport Mall, carrying hundreds of passengers when in full operation.Reprieve on some lines
Yet, there has been good news from Coach USA recently as they have received funding from NJ Transit. As part of that contract, they are to provide service to certain areas of Jersey City, including continuing service with the Number 4 bus line until April 14 instead of shutting down as of Monday. They also will run the 99 bus until Feb. 17.
Margie McCord, a recent transplant to Jersey City, expressed the pain of this growing bus crisis at the meeting, saying that she now has to walk about a mile from her house to the Journal Square PATH Station to catch the train to her Manhattan job. The 99 bus she normally takes no longer is running consistently.
"When the 99 bus comes, you stand out there for so long [waiting for it]," McCord said. "I walk to Journal Square to take the PATH train, and by the time I get there, [the 99] still hasn't come."
McCord and other members of the public were heard by local and state officials who were on hand to listen to these abandoned customers and their complaints. Four council members attend
There were eight officials in attendance at Monday's meeting - City Council members Viola Richardson, Michael Sottolano, Steve Lipski and Steven Fulop, as well as state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, a representative for state Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham, and City Hall representatives Kabili Tayari and David Donnelly.
Donnelly, who heads the city's Quality of Life Task Force, suggested the attendees address letters to City Hall about their problems with the bus service, so he can have a record of complaints to show Coach USA when the city meets with the bus company in the future.
"Over the last couple of months, I have gone and stood on the corner with a schedule waiting for a 99 bus," Donnelly said. "Guess what - they don't come."
Donnelly also said Healy requested funding from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to do a detailed study of how buses operate and provide service in Jersey City.
Richardson represents city Ward F through which the buses in question run. She suggested a more radical tactic to get the attention of Coach USA, which she said "didn't seem to care" about the customers they were leaving behind.
"I am personally ready to boycott," said Richardson, to rousing applause. She said residents should not take the other existing Coach USA Red and Tan buses.
Richardson also suggested that the jitney, or mini-bus service that exists in the northern part of the city, should be considered as a "short-range goal." Mixed group
Young and old; black, white, and Latino; coming from Greenville, Bergen-Lafayette, Downtown, and the Heights - all present at the meeting expressed frustration and indignation, just like the officials, over Coach USA.
Some accused Coach USA of "cherry picking," or choosing which routes they want their buses to travel down. Others accused the bus company of "economic segregation," claiming they want to deprive service to the mostly poor neighborhoods their buses run through.
And the officials, residents, and block association have all planned to reconvene at a Jan. 28 meeting of the Communipaw Avenue Block Association for any updates on the buses. Where was Coach USA?
A Coach USA representative was not present at the meeting, although one was listed on a flyer advertising the meeting.
At the meeting, Rosalyn Browne, head of the Communipaw Avenue Block Association, called out for a Coach USA representative but did not get a response.
Jim Rutherford, a chief executive for Coach USA, said last week that Coach representative Fred Sharp could not attend the meeting because he had to oversee the numbers 4 and 99 bus service that started up again on Monday, and Rutherford himself could not attend due to a previous engagement.
Rutherford also defended the company against criticisms leveled at them in recent months.
"We've been biting the bullet for the past two years, and we don't get credit for trying to continue running the buses," Rutherford said.
When asked if Coach USA may be out of the bus business in Jersey City by this time next year, Rutherford said "no" and that the company will take "a look at all of our lines" and is "looking at all our options."
Coach USA in the past two years has cut not only the No. 16, but also the No. 231 bus that ran along Central Avenue, and the No. 3 that ran to Downtown Jersey City.
Also, it has rerouted the 99S bus from its former route of Palisade Avenue to run down Central Avenue now. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com