Boxcar bus service, NJ Transit look to fill commuter gaps left by DeCamp shutdown
Boxcar, a Chatham-based company that provides commuter bus service into New York City, announced Thursday that it would be expanding its routes to include an Essex Express, filling the gaps left by the dissolution of DeCamp Bus Lines services in Montclair.
DeCamp Bus Lines will be ending its commuter services to New York as of Friday, April 7. The seven affected commuter bus lines, which carry Montclair area residents to and from Manhattan daily, are the Nos. 33, 66/66R, 44, 99, 88, 32 and 100.
Boxcar's new route, beginning April 10, will operate along DeCamp's former Routes 33 and 66, traveling along Park Street and Valley Road, making the same stops that DeCamp did.
This week, NJ Transit also announced it would be implementing an emergency bus service to make up for the lost DeCamp routes. Beginning April 10, there will be four modified NJ Transit routes providing service to affected areas. One of the routes, 191D, will provide alternate service for DeCamp's Route 66 in Montclair. The bus will depart from the Port Authority Bus Station, Gate 208, Door 1.
The modified NJ Transit routes will operate during weekday peak periods only to and from Port Authority Bus Terminal. These routes will not entirely duplicate current DeCamp routes, and some details are still being finalized, Jim Smith, NJ Transit Director of Media Relations, said Friday.
Boxcar's stops in New York City are still being finalized, according to a Boxcar press release posted to the company's Twitter account Thursday evening. But many, if not all, of the buses will be stopping at the locations marked below.
Boxcar service will initially run only Monday through Friday, the release says. Service will include 10 buses operating each morning between 5:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 10 buses operating each evening, between 3:30 and 9:30 p.m.
The company does not own buses, or employ drivers. Instead, Boxcar partners with charter bus companies. These companies, whose charter services are mostly often booked on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, have availability during the week to work with Boxcar.
Boxcar membership for the service is $29.99 per month, which qualifies riders for tickets set at $8.99 per ride, the release says. Tickets are $13.49 per ride for non-members.
Prices for Boxcar’s other routes — the Bergen Bullet, Morris Meteor, Raritan Rocket and Ridgeliner — range from $15 to $20, Joe Colangelo, chief executive officer and founder of Boxcar, said Friday. But because of the interest in the new route, he knew the company could offer lower prices for the Essex Express tickets.
Last week, Boxcar launched a survey asking individuals to share details about their commute, their thoughts on the prices, and any additional comments they might have. The company has received 1,300 responses, Colangelo said.
Many people responded that they would not pay the Boxcar prices, or pay any more than DeCamp prices, he said. DeCamp charges between $8.50 and $8.75 per ride between Montclair and New York City. The company also offered 10-trip and 40-trip discounts.
“Everybody wants service, everybody would like there to be as many options as possible, but some people just can't get their heads around paying more for a better service,” Colangelo said.
Boxcar, with its current pricing, is not an affordable option, Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis said Friday
“It'll totally work for some people, definitely people who are willing to pay that and who it's convenient for,” Yacobellis said. “But for most people, it’s not an affordable rate.”
And with no weekend or off-peak service, Boxcar only makes itself less accessible, he said.
“This is not a replacement, it's not a substitution at all for mass transit,” Yacobellis said. “It’s a private option for some people to have.”
Yacobellis asked that residents continue to contact NJ Transit to ensure the demand remains clear.
“I'm just concerned that as more of these Band-Aids get announced, I don’t want them to feel like the problem is solved,” Yacobellis said.
Boxcar does not have any current plans to lower prices, Colangelo said.
“Our only constraint here is that we have to make money on a bus, or we're going to go out of business,” Colangelo said.
If one of the partners decided to lower its prices, then Boxcar could charge less, he said. But for now, there are only per-seat prices for members and non-members.
Boxcar does provide a free ride for anyone traveling into the city for a job interview, and the company is “always willing to give people their first ride free,” he said..
“When we're trying to do this, we're not trying to be everything to everybody,” Colangelo said. “We can’t run routes all over Roseland, West Orange, Montclair, and still provide a really good service for that person who's getting on Caldwell. They don't want to wait an hour before they get to Route 3.”
The company is also working to partner with property owners along the route so that riders who do not live a walkable distance from a stop can have access to affordable parking, the release says.
The Boxcar app allows riders to reserve seats and track the bus in real time, and the 56-seat buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi and power outlets at every seat.
More information about the new route will be made available in the coming days, the release says.
“This is what we were built for,” Colangelo said. “In the last five years, we've seen a number of these sort of emergent needs.”
He pointed to summer 2017, when NJ Transit’s Morris and Essex lines stopped service to Manhattan, instances when trees have fallen on tracks or ice storms have caused wires to freeze and collapse, also stopping service.
“We don't need to go out and purchase a bunch of $600,000 motor coaches,” Colangelo said. “We can just talk to our partners and say, ‘hey, listen, can we stand up these routes on these times?’”
The partner companies already have drivers, insurance and necessary inspections.
“Everything's all set up,” Colangelo said. “We can really create this thing from the cloud almost immediately.”
With the closure of DeCamp routes connecting Montclair to New York City, local officials began working to find an alternative.
On Tuesday, March 21, Acting Township Manager Brian Scantlebury and Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings met with Joe Colangelo, chief executive officer of Boxcar. Cummings said they discussed a “myriad of options and ideas.”
“At this point we are exploring options,” Cummings said in a text message. “Mr. Scantlebury is leading the way with an expedient approach that has the potential to start soon. But there are conversations to be had on the local and state level, as well as officials from other municipalities impacted. The township is going to explore all options.”
And the efforts extend to the State Legislature and beyond.
On Thursday, State Sen. Richard Codey proposed legislation that would create a $60 million relief fund for private bus carriers affected by the coronavirus pandemic to maintain commuter service. If approved, the fund would be administered through the state’s Economic Development Authority, according to a press release from Codey’s office.
Codey’s plan would be similar to the Commuter and Transit Bus Private Carrier Pandemic Relief and Jobs Program that ended in March 2022.
“DeCamp is quite possibly the first domino to fall, and we cannot expect NJ Transit or anyone else to fill this void,” Codey said in the release. “Let’s remember that private carriers like DeCamp picked up routes NJ Transit historically couldn’t service, usually because ridership was too scattered or spread out.”
The fund will loan carriers money to continue operations until ridership rebounds, the release says. And loans could potentially be forgiven if ridership does not rebound.
“This is not a bailout of some mismanaged business,” Codey said in the release. “This is a lifeline to companies that provide a critically important service, a service that provides jobs and access to New York. The carriers’ problem is easy to understand -- as is the solution.”
Last week, U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who lives in Montclair, said she had sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, chair of the subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, seeking funding.
On Tuesday, Sherrill sent a letter to New Jersey Transit asking them to protect and expand bus and rail commuter routes to ensure affordable access to jobs, education, and healthcare options. The letter was co-signed by several officials in North Jersey, including Essex County Commissioner-At-Large Brendan Gill, Mayor Sean Spiller, Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, and Montclair Councilors Bob Russo, Robin Schlager and Lori Price Abrams and Yacobellis.