TRANSPORTATION

Transit officials tell commuters more buses won’t fix overcrowding

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

During rush hour, NJ Transit buses in Bergen County queue up to onboard passengers who often find buses already full. Riders claim the crowded buses can run late even when they’re rolling 110 buses an hour during the morning peak in Teaneck — that’s a bus every 70 seconds on Teaneck Road. It’s still standing room only.

“Eight times out of 10 I’m standing going in, and everybody else who gets on after me,” said bus commuter Larry White.

At a public hearing for bus riders, commuters complained some people drive to other towns with earlier bus stops just to get a seat.

“For years it’s been standing room only in Palisades Park, so now people drive from Palisades Park to Leonia,” said another commuter.

“Everything that we have with wheels is rolling. We don’t have buses sitting in the garage that we just don’t want to give you. The fact of the matter is that everything we have is out there carrying passengers and they’re full,” said Mike Kilcoyne, vice president and general manager of bus operations at NJ Transit.

Officials from NJ Transit and the Port Authority, invited to the meeting by Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck, told riders they’re squeezing as much bus capacity as they can out of a seriously overburdened system.

In Bergen County, 600 more passengers ride NJ Transit buses than last year and the agency’s got a 93% on time arrival record at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, according to officials.

“There are 600 more people trying to board those buses in the same time frame so you’ll start to see some of those lines begin to grow,” Kilcoyne said.

NJ Transit’s also addressing a severe driver shortage. It’s hired more than 400 new drivers over the past 18 months, training them to get commercial drivers licenses and paying them $20 an hour to beat the competition. It also needs to replace creaky, 18-year-old vehicles with two million miles on them. The buses breakdown, leak when it rains and plague passengers with discomfort.

“It’s really terrible. I’m going to bring my own cushion one day,” said commuter Lamart Applewhite.

But even if they had a whole new fleet with drivers trained and ready, the Port Authority Bus Terminal couldn’t handle more buses during the peak rush hours. A $3.7 billion plan to expand the terminal is moving forward but it’s years from completion. And with American Dream in the Meadowlands opening within months, even more riders will be onboarding.

“Whether NJ Transit has seats or not, the Port Authority Bus Terminal needs to be rebuilt to allow growth,” Kilcoyne said.

“We see how all of this is interlocking and we are at capacity in our infrastructure. There is just no more room,” said Weinberg.

Bus riders appreciated upgrades and plans for expansion, but right now the system just can’t handle the demand for public transit and the paying public is predictably unhappy.