Frequent Transit in the Newark Area

NJ Transit may have its own wacky, confusing bus maps, but the average traveler is only concerned with about half of the routes on the map.  A bus isn’t useful if it only runs in one direction at rush hour, or once an hour.  What’s really important is frequent, reliable transit service that’s available whenever you want to go somewhere.

Here’s what the transit inf the Newark area looks like if we remove all of the peak-only and low-frequency routes from the map:


A little in the way of explanation:  I removed all corridors that don’t have service at least every 12 minutes during the midday off-peak period (roughly 9am-3pm). Rush hour service is almost always more frequent. Those corridors with service every ten minutes or less have thicker lines.

Some corridors are made up of multiple routes, that together provide a high frequency service. The best example of this is Bloomfield Avenue, where the 11, 28, go28, 29, and 72 all operate every 30 minutes, but are synchronized so there is 10-minute service from Newark to Montclair.

In many cases, only parts of a bus route had frequent service.  Take, for example, the #1 line.  It runs from the western border of Newark to Jersey City, but only the central part of the route has service every 12 minutes.  To the west, some buses turn back early, leaving the rest of the route with less regular service.  The line has several branches to the east, all with diminished frequencies.

A few surprises:

•The Newark Light Rail makes it onto the map, but the Path doesn’t.  In the middle of the day, the Path at Newark Penn Station runs every 15 minutes, which is relatively infrequent for a rapid transit service.

•The #13, which is literally NJT’s busiest bus route, runs only every 12 minutes off-peak. With 4.3 million passengers in FY2014, more than any other route on the NJT system, one might expect more frequent service.  But because of the high passenger volumes on this route, NJT uses extra-long articulated buses.  If they used regular 40-foot buses and ran more frequently, I suppose the ridership would be even higher.

•There’s good coverage to the North, West, and South, but precious little to the east.  Buses to Harrison and Kearney and infrequent, and only one bus through the Ironbound runs frequenter than every 12 minutes.  The Ironbound is a very dense residential district, so this absence is curious.  The streets are relatively narrow there and not set up very well for buses, which might explain it.

•The frequent bus routes in Newark all pass through Downtown.  Only one crosstown bus made the cut, the very busy 94.  No other crosstown services had any appreciable frequency.

The system is highly, highly radial. All routes converge on Downtown Newark, specifically the intersection of Broad and Market.  If you’re going by bus from one neighborhood of Newark to another, or one outlying town to another, more likely than not the best way is to take the bus Downtown and transfer.

For a comparison, see this map of frequent transit in Hudson County, along with a very handsome analysis by Capn Transit.  Hudson county does not have a radial system at all.  There is no “center” where the frequent routes all meet.  Instead, almost all of the routes run north-south. There is little crossing over to speak of, except in the area around the Lincoln Tunnel.

Newark’s bus system largely runs on the same streets as the trolleys did so many years ago.  The most frequent routes-  the 13, 21, 25, 29, etc were all some of the busiest car lines 100 years ago.

If the bus system were redrawn according to present travel needs, with no influence from the past, then what would the frequent network map look like?  Radically different, perhaps.

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