NJ Transit’s bus service cuts make lot of sense

While commuters and politicians have been “lashing out” and “slamming” NJ Transit’s proposed 9% fare hike, there’s been a conspicuous absence of any public protest or objection to the agency’s proposed service reductions.

The simple reason for this is that NJ Transit is proposing eliminating trains and buses that are already practically empty.  And what’s more, all of the routes NJT proposes cutting have faster and more convenient alternatives.  What they’re doing makes all the sense in the world.

For example, the 655 bus.  When it was launched in 2012, it was branded as NJ Transit’s “Healthline” bus, connecting downtown Princeton to the Princeton University Hospital and suburban Plainsboro. Funding came from a variety of sources, including regional transportation funds and money from Princeton University

The route is expensive to run and sees very few passengers.  It has a farebox recovery rate of just 6%, compared to about 40-50% for the NJT system as a whole.  And it sees  4.3 passengers per hour, a negligible number that works out to just over 100 passengers a day.

Once this bus is gone, those 4.3 passengers an hour won’t be stranded. The outer portion of the route in Plainsboro is also served by NJ Transit’ route 600 to Trenton. The segment between Princeton and the hospital are connected by Princeton University’s Tiger Transit system, which is free. The hospital already provides free transportation to seniors and those with disabilities. With such a wealth of alternatives, it’s hard to see why this service existed in the first place.

Another route slated for elimination is the eastern portion of NJ Transit’s 872 bus in Morris county.  This is the only bus service cut proposed for North Jersey.  Currently the bus runs from Morristown to the Livingston Mall via Parsippany, but the portion of the route along Route 10 between Parsippany and Livingston would be cut.

The bus runs eight times a day in either direction, and the route carries about 100 passengers a day.  Route 10 is a corridor full of suburban shopping centers, but much of the route is already served by much more frequent service on the NJT 73 to Newark. Demand-response shuttle buses from EZ ride meet rush hour buses at the end of the line, and take passengers to their place of employment along Route 10.  This service likely takes any riders that would be using the 872 otherwise.

Hopefully, cutting service on Route 10 will mean that service becomes more frequent on the portion between Parsippany and Morristown.

Back in South Jersey, the two routes proposed for elimination both serve the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson Township.  The 318 runs from Philadelphia, and the 307 goes to nearby Freehold.  Both run seasonally, based on the amusement park’s schedule.

These services, like others operate at a deficit.  But they only serve one major destination-  Six Flags.  Six Flags has, at least in the past, contributed to the operation of these buses, that bring them customers who might not otherwise be able to get there. But if Six Flags has discontinued these contributions or is unwilling to meet the full cost of their operation, by all means NJ Transit should discontinue service.

This is the kind of private charter service that NJT should not be losing money on.

The last bus route NJ Transit proposes truncating is the 419, which runs between Camden and Burlington, near the Delaware river.  NJT proposes cutting back the line from Burlington to Riverside, which represents about 20 minute of running time. The trip from Burlington to Riverside can be made on the parallel River Line light rail in 10 minutes.  Any passengers making long-distance trips along this route are probably already using the light rail service.  Riverside and Burlington are also connected by NJT’s 409 bus.

These are all bus services that may have once made sense, but have been superseded by better and more attractive travel alternatives.  Some of them should have been replaced years ago.  Just remember, if there were no bus cuts, the fare hike would be 10% or 11%!

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2 thoughts on “NJ Transit’s bus service cuts make lot of sense

  1. Is there a publicly available source of ridership / farebox recovery for all NJ Transit bus lines?

    The loss of the #655 has not gone unnoticed in Princeton. It sucks to be the only community in New Jersey that is losing a year-round bus service. There have been several public meetings, and regular users are pissed. They will have to use paratransit now. The #600 doesn’t run to Princeton, and TigerTransit is weekday only, finishes at 6.00 p.m, and doesn’t serve the same neighborhoods in Princeton as the #655 did. The number of users, to be fair, was low, but the #655 has only been running since 2012 and might have found better ridership with time.

    As for “why this service existed in the first place”, Princeton hospital was in a walkable, transit-accessible location on Witherspoon Street for a hundred years until 2012, when it moved to the present site in Plainsboro. Adding a regular bus service had an equity component, to allow local seniors access to the new hospital, and was also intended to reduce traffic on Route 1 between Princeton and Plainsboro, which is regularly at a standstill at rush hour.

    NJ Transit will claw back a few bucks by canceling it, but as you already mentioned, a lot of the funding didn’t come from NJ Transit, so the savings will probably be pretty minor.

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  2. The ridership data isn’t publicly available, but you can obtain it via OPRA requests. Ask for the full system ridership report.

    Hopefully, some compromise can be made with Tiger Transit so that service from Princeton to the hospital is preserved. I believe there has been some discussion about that already.

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