A tour of shuttle services on the Morris & Essex Lines

After the Northeast Corridor Line, the Morris & Essex Lines are the busiest on the NJ Transit system, with 3.7 Million riders per year. as of 2012.  The inner segment of the line, between Summit and Newark has more ridership than either the branches.

The Inner M&E is served by a robust system of local shuttles taking commuters from residential neighborhoods to downtown train stations, usually called jitneys by commuters  (These are not the same as the jitneys in Passaic and Hudson Counties).  The area between Maplewood and West Orange may have the best train station jitney service of anywhere in the state.

Interactive map past the jump

Interactive map past the jump

These shuttles fall into two categories:  Neighborhood jitneys and park-and-ride shuttles.

Park-and-ride shuttles are meant to intercept commuters who drive to the train station, and are usually a way to provide extra commuter parking at stations where it is limited.

Springfield township operates a park-and-ride shuttle to Short Hills station.  Commuters can park at the Springfield municipal pool and take the shuttle to the train.  The pool effectively serves as a satellite parking lot for Short Hills station.

  • Routes:  1
  • AM runs:  10
  • PM runs: approx. 10
  • Fare:  $3/ride, $50/month
  • Residents only

The Livingston Express Shuttle is a service managed by the Township of Livingston that runs non-stop between the Livingston Mall and South Orange Station, a 15-18 minute trip. This park and ride is also a stop for competing Coach USA bus service to Manhattan.

  • Routes:  1
  • AM runs:  7
  • PM runs: approx. 9
  • Fare:  $2/ride, $70/month
  • Residents and non-residents welcome

Now, for neighborhood jitneys.  These buses run on winding routes through residential neighborhoods, designed for coverage, not for speed, so that the bus can drop off commuters as close to their home as possible. Their passengers would otherwise drive to the train, or face long walks.

Maplewood has a municipal jitney system dating back to 1997.  Since then, ridership has risen steadily, to over 300 a day.  More history of the Maplewood jitney system can be found in this fascinating case study. One route also served part of neighboring Millburn, but this was discontinued in 2011.

  • Routes:  3
  • AM runs:  6 each
  • PM runs: approx. 8 each
  • Fare:  $1/ride, $92/year
  • Residents only

South Orange, the town next door, runs its own system of neighborhood jitneys, with three routes radiating from South Orange station.  None of these routes serve Mountain Station, another station within South Orange.  Mountain Station has very limited express service and no service to Penn Station during rush hours.

South Orange jitneys do not run midday, but they operate rush hours and unlike other systems, offer late night service.  The last four runs have no by-stop schedule, implying that they operate on flexible routes, depending where passengers want to go.

  • Routes:  3
  • AM runs:  6 each
  • PM runs: approx. 11 each
  • Fare:  $1/ride, $150/year
  • Residents only

South Orange is also served by Seton Hall University’s SHUFLY shuttle bus, which runs every 15-30 minute throughout the day, connecting the campus to South Orange Station.  But this is a private service for students, faculty, and employees.  University ID’s are required, and the public is not allowed to ride. No fare is charged.

West Orange has a system of five jitney routes, linking different neighborhoods to Orange, South Orange, and Mountain Stations. In general, the first one or two runs of the AM or PM will meet connecting trains at Orange Station, and later trips meet the trains at South Orange Station. In some cases, this requires significant backtracking for commuters who live in the northern part of West Orange.

  • Routes:  5
  • AM runs:  3-4 each
  • PM runs: approx. 6 each
  • Fare: free
  • No specific residency policy

The jitneys have done an amazing thing In Maplewood and the Oranges.  Despite enormous increases in ridership after Midtown Direct service began, none of the stations with jitney service have had to build parking garages.

Despite the fact that train ridership has increased from 1,200 to 3,000 commuters since 1994, Maplewood has avoided building a garage.

According to the case study by Local Governments for Sustainability, it cost $175,000 a year to run the Maplewood jitney system, after fares.  The majority of this is paid for with parking revenues.  The bus vehicles themselves were paid for with federal grant money.  It would have cost $11.6 million to build a parking garage.

The jitneys allow transit use to grow past the limitations of train station parking.  For instance, South Orange station has about 400 parking spaces, but a weekday ridership of over 3,600 as of 2012.  Maplewood has about 560 parking spaces, but a weekday ridership of 3,095

But there are limitations.  Residency restrictions limit the usefulness of the services offered.  This sets a bar for visitors, or even local residents who haven’t gotten the chance to visit town hall to apply for a photo-ID jitney pass.

With almost no exceptions, local jitney services on the Morris & Essex are timed to meet the train to New York Penn Station, not the train to Hoboken.  A Hoboken commuter would get off the jitney, wait five minutes for the New York train to go by, and then wait another ten minutes for the Hoboken train.  This is a major inconvenience and I’m sure this suppresses ridership for commuters who aren’t going to Midtown. But with limited resources, it’s unavoidable.

Still, jitneys are a good example of a solution to the last-mile problem.  They are cheaper to run than expanding parking, more sustainable, and are part of why train service has done so much for property values along the Morris & Essex.

And in my opinion, they are a much more effective way to manage train station parking than what neighboring Millburn chose to implement:  valet parking.

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