Calls to Regulate Jitney Buses

By Brenda Flanagan

“I believe they do need some regulation,” said Nadia Cabana.

Even frequent riders like Cabana view the jitney hustle in Hudson County as a bit of a rodeo as drivers jockey for riders.

“They stop, they stall or they go really really, they go ahead of the other,” Cabana said. “They get a little competitive between them.”

Understandable, she says, given the hundreds of jitney buses vying for business in Union City and across the county.

So Cabana’s willing to overlook a little vehicular rough-housing because people here need the jitneys.

“It’s so convenient that, the other buses, if they take longer to pass and you’re in a hurry — you just jump in a jitney bus,” she said.

We saw just three NJ Transit buses pass by on Bergenline Avenue within 40 minutes, but dozens of jitneys. The drivers themselves complain too many jitneys is too much of a good thing.

“Too much, too much bus. Maybe 300 every day. No can work. Too much people work. I need regulation,” said a jitney operator.

He’s asking for regulation? “Yes, we want regulation,” another jitney operator said. “We don’t have a leader, we don’t have a president, we don’t have anything. We work different companies, every bus has a different owner.”

“They’re seeking regulation. They’re begging for regulation,” said Sen. Stack.

State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack told transit officials at yesterday’s Senate budget hearing, he meets with some 400 jitney operators about four times a year.

“Why not just embrace them, instead of turning a blind eye, and work and come together on terms where we regulate them? They’re looking for regulation. You have people out there working 16 hours a day — poor individuals that are just trying to make a living, doing it the right way, working 16 hours a day, making $90 some of them sometimes,” Stack said.

“I think that’s something that we should certainly talk further about. I had not heard they were embracing regulation. I have heard concerns about their insurance requirements and safety issues around the jitney operations. But I’m certainly open to the conversation,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim.

For now, jitney fares are low and cash-only — $2 or $3. Schedules remain flexible. Routes are not standardized, and most maps — unofficial. Last July, New Jersey’s MVC started requiring annual state emissions and safety inspections. A recent study recommended a revenue-neutral Jitney Medallion System, that would issue driver and vehicle medallions, designate reliable routes, improve vehicle and operator safety and coordinate information for riders.

Stack says he tried to line up an insurance pool because he says some operators pay $17,000 a year — and more — for just one bus. After the tragic death of little Angelie Paredes in a jitney accident a couple years ago, law enforcement cracked down on jitney operators. And while he acknowledged the need for safety inspections, Stack also criticized how they’re conducted on the spot.

“Where we stop a bus on a street, we make everybody get off the bus on these small jitneys. It doesn’t make any sense. Set up inspections at their yards. Make them comply with every single bus, but do it in a humane way,” he said.

Of course, it’s easy to want regulation. Agreeing on the details, drafting the legislation and getting the governor to sign it — that’s a much longer road.