Sunday, March 28, 2010

Disabled, nondisabled people protest bus route cuts by NJ Transit

From The Daily Record in N.J.:

MORRISTOWN, N.J. -- Some commuters said they were willing to put up with fare hikes, in addition to the ones already planned by NJ Transit, to prevent their bus route or train from being cut.

One person suggested the agency's top executives take a pay cut.

Others suggested Gov. Chris Christie go to Washington, D.C., to seek federal funds normally used for capital projects to cover operating costs.

There was no shortage of ideas March 26 as more than 200 people packed a public hearing at town hall, pleading with NJ Transit to preserve bus routes that the agency has proposed to eliminate.

The transit agency has proposed cutting six of the seven bus routes in Morris County and reduce train service, in addition to increasing fares by 25 percent. The bus route cuts would save more than $1.5 million, NJ Transit has said, and would affect approximately 1,000 riders.

Transit officials identified routes they believed were underutilized or not cost effective for the cuts, in order to help close the company's $300 million budget gap.

Many area residents who spoke claimed the bus routes are their main sources of
transportation to get to doctor's appointments, attend college classes or get to work. Those who rely on the Access Link routes said they would especially be devastated. The possible cut of Morris County Metro Bus 3 would prevent many people from reaching the social and human services agencies located at the former site of Greystone State Psychiatric Hospital, a point mentioned by Morris County Freeholder Director Gene Feyl. The cuts, Feyl said, would create
"an unfair and disproportionate burden.''

"These people who need the service the most will be denied the transportation,'' he said. "We urge your recommendation of these routes.''

Feyl also called for preserving buses MCM1, which goes from Morristown to Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, and MCM2, which travels between Morristown and County College of Morris in Randolph.

Jay Prakesh Patel, of Parsippany, described himself as "a blind person'' who for 10 years has used Access Link, which is NJ Transit's paratransit service for individuals who are unable to use local bus service.

He is so worried about its possible cut that "I can't sleep,'' he said. "I need this
service for the rest of my life.''

Patel described a domino effect that could occur from losing the transport service.

"If I lose my job (because I can't get to work), how do I support my family?'' he asked.

Rhonda Gibson, a Parsippany resident who uses the MCM1 bus, said customers in Morris County depend on NJ Transit, the only bus company providing local transportation in the area.

"You would penalize them,'' she said. "What other choice do we have?''

Gary Kazin, of Rockaway Township, described Morris County as "a transportation desert.''

Timothy Coaker, a legally blind Parsippany resident, said NJ Transit has chosen an illogical way to address its fiscal woes. "Cutting services and raising fees makes no sense,'' he said.

Some members of the crowd chanted such slogans as "Save Our Bus.'' Some held up placards reading "Save My Job'' and "NJ T CEO: you take a 25 percent pay cut.''

Courtney Carroll, an NJ Transit spokeswoman, said the public hearings help provide "an opportunity for customers to have their voices heard.'' She added they can provide transit officials with information to help them make the decision regarding services and routes.

"There have been suggestions that come to light and that have made it to the final plan,'' she said. NJ Transit's Board of Directors will meet in Newark on April 14 to make their decisions.