With the cost of gas breaking records, more and more Hudson County residents are taking advantage of the mass transit options available for their commutes. But many are unpleasantly surprised to discover how inconvenient the first leg of their journeys are after recent local bus service cuts. While the light rail is an option for some, its introduction into the transit mix has had the unintended consequence of undermining crucial bus routes that serve as a link between Jersey City neighborhoods and points north and south. We saw one example of this recently when Coach USA cut routes in the Greenville section of Jersey City. It's easy to blame the bus companies for these kinds of cuts, but faced with competition from the highly subsidized light rail, Coach USA and all private bus companies don't have many options left to keep their businesses sustainable.
Bus companies are hurting as much as we are from high gas prices, and it's time to give them some relief in the form of a temporary exemption from state and federal gas taxes. A gas tax holiday for all mass transit providers would level the playing field, allowing them to maintain current fares and routes. For example, at current diesel prices, it costs an average of $477.60 to fill a typical 100-gallon bus tank in New Jersey. But if bus companies were exempted from the 41.9-cent tax on diesel, they would pay only $435.70 per tank. A savings of $41.90 may not seem like much for a business but multiply that by the number of tanks a single bus goes through in its daily route and you're looking at a substantial savings that could help to offset the rapid increase in the base price of diesel.
Some may argue that a gas tax holiday should apply to all industries, not just transit, but as the industry that ensures that people can get to work every day, mass transit providers should get priority. Only with relief from gas taxes will bus companies be able to continue to charge affordable fares and maintain the routes that Hudson County citizens rely on.
In the long term, our elected officials also need to take a closer look at any proposal for expanding light rail service to see if it would have adverse effects on remaining local bus lines. They could go a step further by looking into ways of actually supporting these bus lines and increasing their effectiveness in linking riders to the more regional transit network of trains and light rail.
With a gas tax exemption, mass transit would make economic sense not just for riders but also for the bus companies that serve them. We are fortunate to have elected officials who understand the crucial role that mass transit plays in Hudson County, and it's time for them to help us make sure that bus routes continue to service our neighborhoods. Please call Senator Nicholas Sacco at (201) 295-0200 and Assemblyman Vincent Prieto at (201) 770-1303 and tell them to support a gas tax holiday for mass transit providers. Your call can really make a difference.
Michael Yun, President
CASID Board of Trustees