TRANSPORTATION

NJ Transit adds American Dream bus service amid commuter worries

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Inside the mammoth American Dream Meadowlands complex, due to open some of its doors on Oct. 25, Reptar’s installed at the Nickelodeon theme park, and the indoor roller coaster is running.

But concerns continue to swirl about how customers will get to the sprawling entertainment and retail development, which sits alongside MetLife Stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack, and about how accommodating those newcomers will impact New Jersey commuters and others trying to navigate the area’s already crowded roads and mass-transit systems.

NJ Transit announced Thursday that it was adding bus service to the complex — express routes running every 30 minutes from the Port Authority terminal in midtown Manhattan and the Secaucus Transfer train station, and the addition of American Dream stops on three existing routes. (See details below.)

But the transit agency said it was withholding a decision on American Dream and its rail system, saying train service on the spur the serves the Meadowlands complex “will be added once the rail system is resilient enough that doing so won’t adversely affect NJ Transit commuters.”

Developer Triple Five expects to attract 40 million visitors a year — that’s a MetLife Stadium-sized crowd every day — and it hopes half of them opt for bus or train rides to the complex.

Amusements will dominate the planned soft launch of the complex. Triple Five has booked 80- to 85% of its retail space, but much of that is still being prepared, according to Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.

“On Oct. 25, they will open up the entertainment area, which is the amusement park, the water park, the ski dome, Big Snow, and some of the retail around that particular area — as a means of getting the facility open,” Kirkos said.

But commuter advocates say they remained worried about how their lives are going to be impacted.

“We’ve heard from some of our members who ride the buses, saying, ‘Hey! I don’t want my bus diverted, and then I have to leave earlier in order to get to work,’” said Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. “And that’s a concern. There are concerns by bus riders, there are concerns by rail riders. Especially in an age of a shortage of engineers and bus drivers, bus operators, as well as equipment.”

As American Dream holds multiple job fairs across the area to hire thousands of workers in preparation of its opening, Resto said he wanted assurances from NJ Transit that they wouldn’t be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The association is “hoping that they’re not going to take equipment and run it to American Dream and cancel trains on other lines, in order to do that,” he said.

Transit experts say, unlike its Meadowlands project, Triple Five’s other megamalls — in Minneapolis and West Edmonton, Canada — benefit from rich connections to bus and light rail lines. Charter tour buses could be added by American Dream.

A spokesman for Academy Bus said the company had responded to a request for proposals from Triple Five in May but had heard nothing back.

Charter tour buses from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal would park at a hub Triple Five has planned at American Dream. But the company’s also planning a special entrance for VIPs at its complex, which is focused on luxury shopping, with big names like Saks, Hermes, Tiffany and Barney’s, for specialty destination shoppers.

“I think this is truly built with the luxury tourist consumer in mind, and this is why probably it’s going to be successful,” said Thomai Serdari, an adjunct associate professor at the NYU Stern School of Business.

Some unexpected headwinds are blowing against Triple Five’s plans. Barney filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 6, although a spokesman said it will open at American Dream as planned next spring.

In addition, as Triple Five targets foreign shoppers — expecting they’ll make up 20 percent of its clientele — surveys show the tourism economy has fallen off. For visitors from China, it was down 5.7% last year, compared to 2017, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.

“The numbers have gone down, especially they have gone down in the last year because of what is happening politically between the US and China,” said Serdari of the Trump administration’s position on tariffs and trade wars. “But this is not something that the developers could have anticipated. “

“All I know is, they are full speed ahead on this project,” Kirkos said. “They have not slowed one thing down. They have not pinched one penny on the inside of that. They have not taken anything away.”

Triple Five did not respond to requests for comment.

Resto of the Association of Rail Riders sees an acid test looming on Nov. 23 and 24 — when a Sopranos convention and a Jets game are scheduled.

“You take all that and I hope NJTV has a traffic helicopter to fly over and take a look at the mess that’s gonna be on that day, without transit,” Resto said.

Transit, state and economic officials will closely watch this upcoming soft launch, to see how the complex fares. If it thrives, it might encourage a bigger commitment in resources and money.

Here are the details of the service NJ Transit says it will be adding to accommodate American Dream:

Beginning on Oct. 25, a new bus route, the No. 355, will operate daily express service from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) to the American Dream every 30 minutes.

Bus Route No. 356 will operate daily express service from Secaucus Junction to American Dream every 30 minutes.

To provide transportation options for American Dream employees prior to the opening, three local bus routes – the Route No. 85, which operates from Hoboken/Union City to Secaucus; Route No. 703, which operates from Paterson/Passaic to East Rutherford; and Route No. 772, which operates from Hackensack to the Meadowlands – will expand their operating hours and include stops at American Dream beginning on Saturday, August 31.

These three bus lines initially will stop at the Racetrack at the Meadowlands until completion of the dedicated hub at American Dream and will continue operations once opened.

Additionally, Route No. 772 will be expanding to include Saturday and Sunday service. NJ TRANSIT will implement the expanded weeknight service and new weekend service effective August 31.

To utilize Route No. 356 express bus service from Secaucus Junction, customers may travel on any rail line that serves Secaucus Junction or any of the five NJ TRANST bus routes that serve Secaucus Junction and transfer to Route No. 356 express bus for direct service to American Dream. They are:

  • No. 2, Journal Square to Secaucus
  • No. 78, Newark to Secaucus
  • No. 124, PABT to Secaucus-Harmon Cove
  • No. 129, PABT to Secaucus
  • No. 329, Harmon Cove to Secaucus

NJ TRANSIT will monitor any possible crowds at both Secaucus and PABT and ensure that demand is properly met with commensurate service.

Bus fare information from PABT and Secaucus to American Dream, schedules and gate departure information will be determined and announced as the opening date gets closer.