We need a plan to restore more bus service to Montclair (Letter to the editor)
Montclair is well-known as a transit-connected gem, with its seven train stations that can get you to downtown New York City in less than an hour. But for much of our community, the greatest transit asset is actually our proximity to Route 3 and the express bus service that it can facilitate.
For residents in the northern part of Montclair, a downtown commute via express bus can take 25 to 30 minutes, half as long as a train, without even factoring in proximity to train stations. Two years ago, a stream of buses ran up Valley Road, Grove Street and Broad Street before heading straight for the Lincoln Tunnel. It was a transit pillar of our community that many people grew to depend on.
Decades-old political deal-making gave a private company exclusive rights to serve our community with downtown bus service, and unfortunately the pandemic had sidelined that company’s service. Meanwhile. our federal and state tax dollars have been hard at work ensuring that other communities stay connected with NJ Transit buses, which have been operating continuously and with government-backed certainty that they will continue to operate. There is a real cost to losing our bus connectivity and it comes in the form of lost hours with family, more cars on the road, an over-reliance on train service and lower property values.
Love 'em or hate 'em, NJ Transit exists to support the economic benefits of a more connected region and, with government backing, they are able to provide continuous and affordable commuting options. Yet they are barred from serving our community with downtown bus service because of an opaque “no-stop zone” agreement with Decamp, a for-profit bus service. Decamp is a fine bus service, but the pandemic has exposed the downside of outsourcing public transit to a private company: It can just stop service when it doesn’t see money to be made. It’s what it has to do.
This has broken commuting patterns for a large swath of our community that is looking to get back to work as well as those, like my wife, who never stopped commuting downtown. Many of us moved into a house that touted “steps away from downtown bus service” as a headline feature. I have no illusion that our commuting needs will be the same as they were in 2019 anytime soon, but much of our community will be headed back downtown in 2022 and we should be utilizing all of the transit resources available to us.
It’s time that we ask our community leaders to work with Decamp, NJ Transit and the state government to come up with a plan to restore downtown bus service to Montclair at reasonable service levels and fares. Convenient public transit is essential for connecting people to their jobs in a way that’s efficient, equitable and environmentally friendly.
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