NJ Transit adding bus drivers with ‘summer from purgatory’ ahead
Some of the additional funding Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration intends for NJ Transit in its budget plan will enable the agency to hire 40 new bus drivers – and it’s recruiting already, in hopes of getting drivers in place to deal with a transportation headache looming this summer.
Murphy’s fiscal 2019 budget plan increases the state’s direct subsidy to NJ Transit from $141 million to more than $382 million. That won’t mean a dollar-for-dollar increase in spending, as some gets offset by reductions in federal funding and a transfer from the New Jersey Turnpike.
But it will allow for around 114 additional employees to be hired. Bus drivers will account for more than one-third of the staff being added, with 15 of the agency’s 202 routes targeted for specific improvements.
In a visit to an NJ Transit bus maintenance facility in Newark, Murphy said fixing the agency will take years but that improvements will start soon.
“Bus riders can hope for better days and better rides ahead,” Murphy said.
“This is not an amenity. This is a necessity,” said Sen. Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, who said buses are vital not only in cities but in suburban hubs like in East Brunswick. “This is how people get to work. This is how families survive, taking buses.”
In fiscal 2016, bus riders – including those who take private lines contracted by NJ Transit – accounted for 59 percent of NJT’s ridership: 148.5 million, out of a total 272.7 million rides.
That share was down from 62 percent three years earlier, with train ridership up to nearly 33 percent of the total. Nine percent use light rail.
Murphy and NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett didn’t specify by how much the bus system’s budget would increase but did say it would allow:
The addition of 40 bus drivers, in part to help address overcrowding on seven bus routes through Bergen, Hudson and Union counties: routes 113, 114, 123, 126, 156, 158 and 159. Two of the routes extend into Middlesex and Somerset counties.
On-time performance to be improved specifically on eight routes – the 81, 83, 84 and 190 in North Jersey, the 603 and 606 in the Trenton/Hamilton area and the 410 from Bridgeton and 412 from Glassboro into Philadelphia.
“These enhancements will involve the adjustment of running times along with some additional buses with the additional bus drivers needed to provide bus stop arrivals more in sync with the actual time points on the schedule,” Corbett said.
Corbett said the funds would also allow additional flexibility to mitigate the effects of external factors like road construction.
High on that list of headaches is the start this summer of rebuilding the Route 495 viaduct near the Lincoln Tunnel, taking out one lane of service in each direction.
The express bus lane will remain open, and more buses will be added on some routes “to take that burden,” Corbett said. “But it’s going to be a tough summer.”
“Last summer was the summer from hell,” Murphy said. “Is this going to be the summer from purgatory I hope, at least?”