"We're still working out the time schedule for the route," Elwell said, explaining why the vehicle has not yet been put into service.
For years, Secaucus officials have dreamed of providing a bus service in town, something that could allow residents to get to shopping malls, the center of town, and out-of-the-way areas.
Two years ago, during a ceremony held at the Clifton train station, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ 8th) and New Jersey Transit Executive Director Jeffrey A. Warsh announced the first round of recipients of jitney buses for the stateside "Community Shuttle Program."
This initiative enables communities throughout New Jersey to offer jitney bus service to residents who use New Jersey Transit trains and buses. The use of shuttles improves residents' access to local train and bus stations while easing traffic congestion, alleviating the need for new parking facilities and helping to cut air pollution. NJ Transit figures show bus service in Secaucus has been rising from 1.5 to 2 percent a year, adding incentive to provide the service to Secaucus.
In 1995, then-councilman and now mayor Dennis Elwell and Councilman John Reilly tried to work out a plan with NJ Transit that would provide a subsidized bus route in town. That action was prompted when NJ Transit decided to discontinue its No. 85 bus service, which came into the heart of Secaucus. A committee from the Town Council met with NJ Transit officials looking for alternatives.
NJ Transit offered to provide a bus in a joint venture with the town, if the town would pay for it. NJ Transit even offered to throw in fares collected to help lower the cost. Elwell and Reilly again looked into the project in 1997 with the help of James Adams of The Funding Group. Elwell has constantly urged the council to seek help from federal legislators in order to help lobby NJ Transit. This year, Adams contacted NJ Transit when he heard that its community transportation program was going to be expanded.
In the most recent effort, congressmen Pascrell and Donald M. Payne (D-10th Dist.) secured $3 million in federal funds from the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) for this initial year of the Community Shuttle Program. An additional $3.5 million was granted to fund the second year of the transportation project.
"We've already applied to get a second bus," Elwell said, and he said that he expected the town to be awarded that bus, too.
v As part of the deal, NJ Transit will provide the shuttle bus. The town pays nothing for the vehicle - valued at $70,000. But Secaucus is responsible for maintaining it, supplying the manpower to operate it, and making certain stops during peak hours, such as covering the NJ Transit trains.
During the hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, the shuttle will be required to cover certain NJ Transit stops, such as the Secaucus Plaza Center, regular bus stops along regular routes and the Harmon Cove Rail Station. Outside of those hours, the will be able to determine the route. According to town officials, the shuttle can be used off-peak for community events. The town is developing a plan to use the bus to transport some students to the high school, for increased transportation of town residents to the community's outlet centers and similar services, Elwell said.
The town is looking to set up a route that includes all the in-town shopping centers as well as Harmon Cove. Elwell, however, said the route originally planned does not work, and is being modified.
"We knew we would have to work out the bugs before we introduced the service," Elwell said. "That's what this is all about."
The program would allow the town to charge a fee for the service, which would be used to off set local costs of maintaining the bus and paying the drivers. Adams said the cost would likely be $1 per ride. Since the town's Department of Public Works also does auto-repair, maintenance costs will be less.