NJ Transit bus riders want ‘bill of rights,’ guaranteed improved service

By: - February 17, 2023 6:53 am

Commuters and transit advocates want the state to pass a bill that would guarantee reliable service for bus riders. (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)

Gloria Mills hopped on an AccessLink bus in Newark headed to New York Penn Station at 7:11 a.m. Thursday.

Mills then grabbed a train to get to Trenton.

Then she took another bus to the Statehouse to arrive just in time to testify in front of the Assembly Transportation Committee in support of a “NJ Transit Bus Riders’ Bill of Rights.”

The trip took nearly three hours.

She faces hurdles like these convoluted commutes every day. As a regular transit rider, she’s waited for buses scheduled to come every half hour, only for them to show up within five minutes of each other. Arrival times are inconsistent, and riders with disabilities are not able to depend on the service they need, she said.

“People need to be notified that buses are not coming. So many people throughout the state utilize the services, urban and suburban, that have great concerns. People even move into areas to be closer to the buses,” Mills noted.

Mills is among the commuters and transit advocates urging the state to pass the bill to guarantee bus riders have rights similar to the state’s consumers, and to ensure riders’ rights are displayed in buses, at bus terminals, and on state websites.

The bill includes 10 guarantees for riders, ranging from ensuring there are sufficient buses to service all customers, publishing public ridership and on-time data regularly, printing up-to-date routes and schedules in several languages, updating bus schedules every 12 months, and maintaining sanitized fleets that offer seating for passengers with disabilities.

Peter Rajno, of the Blinded Veterans Association, is a blind resident who depends on public transit to get to and from social services. Rajno said NJ Transit routes are scarce where he lives in Burlington County, and he often needs to ride multiple buses to get to his destination.

Buses have skipped him because he didn’t wave his hand to stop them, he said, adding that bus drivers have been rude to him when he tries to confirm the number of the bus he’s getting on.

“Drivers just blow off. What I hear from buses is, ‘What, you can’t see the (route) number?’ I’m standing there with my cane … they close the door on me,” he said. “When you try to speak to a supervisor, it’s like, who do I talk to?”

He said the bus driver’s bill of rights is absolutely necessary, not just for the veterans he’s advocating for, but everyday bus riders.

The bill was up for discussion only on Thursday, but lawmakers were sympathetic to the bill’s supporters.

Assemblywoman Shama Haider said Thursday she drives now to avoid problems with NJ Transit bus schedules. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Assemblywoman Shama Haider (D-Bergen) said she has also experienced long wait times for a bus, only to see three buses arrive in close succession. Haider said she no longer depends on public transit because of this, and drives instead.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said problems exist with NJ Transit across the whole state, in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Either there aren’t enough buses and drivers, they don’t come on time and aren’t fast enough, or routes don’t exist to get where someone needs to go in a reasonable time, he said.

He invited Gov. Phil Murphy to ride a bus to see the hurdles residents face on public transit.

“The reason why this is able to go on for so long is because bus riders, in some ways, have come to expect service that isn’t reliable, that isn’t on time,” O’Malley said.

Murphy used to ride public transit semi-regularly before the pandemic, according to administration officials. They would not say when Murphy last used the service — bus, train, or light rail — or whether Murphy would accept transit advocates’ invitation.

Murphy spokesman Bailey Lawrence touted the governor’s investment in NJ Transit and noted there have been no fare hikes in the last four years. The public transportation system has become more efficient, modern, and sustainable, he said.

He said NJ Transit remains “top-of-mind throughout the development and negotiation” of the budget Murphy is set to unveil soon. The administration will continue to invest in transportation facility upgrades and in expanding bike and pedestrian transportation opportunities, Lawrence added.

Assemblyman William Moen (D-Camden) said Thursday’s discussion brought the issue to an “entirely different level.” He noted veterans in Cape May and Cumberland counties depend on NJ Transit to get them to the closest veterans assistance office in Wilmington, Delaware. That trip can take more than three hours with several transfers.

“It’s important to show that example of thinking about a veteran … spending three hours getting to the place they need to go to get help,” he said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.