By Ricardo Kaulessar, Jersey City Reporter staff writer
Residents of the Heights and Greenville pummeled the mayor with questions last week after a bus route along Central Avenue was suddenly terminated.
On Jan. 27, with less than a week’s notice, Coach USA/ Red & Tan discontinued bus line 231, which ran from Liberty State Park to Hague Street in the Heights section of the city. They called it a “financial decision.”
A press conference was scheduled for Friday afternoon at City Hall where officials said that Coach USA intended to announce limited bus service on Central Avenue. The results were not available by press time.
NJ Transit also said that they may be able to pick up some of the slack.
Angry bus customers attended a public meeting on Tuesday at the Central Avenue Reform Church, along with Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Ward D Councilman Bill Gaughan, City Councilman-at-Large Peter Brennan, and representatives for state Assembly members Louis Manzo (D-31st Dist.) and Joan Quigley (D-32nd Dist.)
The meeting was organized by the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, with its president, Michael Yun, as moderator.
Central Avenue SID representatives, along with state Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (NJ-32) and Quigley met with NJ Transit officials to come up with a short- and long-term solution to deal with the discontinued bus service.
The short-term remedy is to explore all alternative means of transportation to immediately provide service. The long-term solution would be for NJ Transit to monitor the passenger flow on routes in the area for the next two weeks, and then consider route adjustments.
Officials get run over
At the Tuesday meeting, city officials faced angry Heights residents, many holding flyers that read “Where is the bus?” and wanting answers as to when the next bus would be running on Central Avenue.
The residents came from as far as the Greenville section of the city, where the former bus route had its starting point.
Doris Stoldt, a Heights resident and president of the Jersey City chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, summed up the importance of the bus for various groups.
“The children who go to Dickinson [High School] need the bus, the people who go to work need the bus, the seniors need the bus all day long,” said Stoldt.
Jeanne Corvo, a Paterson Street resident, who used the bus number 231 to go to chemotherapy, lashed out at Healy, saying he “did not care” about the Heights residents and Central Avenue.
“I have to walk to chemotherapy because there’s no more bus service. And I don’t feel Mayor Healy cares,” said Corvo.
“How come I can stand on Congress Street and hear from the people on the street that the bus is not running?”
Rich Boggiano, president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Association, suggested that jitney bus companies be invited to provide service on Central Avenue as they do on Palisade Avenue and other parts of the Heights.
Yun agreed with the suggestion, but pointed out that many jitney buses are not handicapped accessible. He did say that “jitney buses are better than no buses.”
Jimmy King, president of the Jimmy King Civic Association, suggested to Healy that a city bus could be utilized to transport seniors, and those with health problems could be transported from the Jersey City and Union City borders to Jersey City Medical Center until bus service resumed.
Facing the crowd
Healy was met warm applause, and boos and catcalls as well. He first defended himself against comments that he did not care about the Heights, pointing out that his “job is to help the people all over Jersey City and on Central Avenue.”
This evoked from the audience shouts of “Where’s the help?” Healy said he was taken by surprise when the bus service ended abruptly, having read about it in the newspapers. He agreed with King’s suggestion that a city bus be put into service, but also pointed out the negatives.
“You know what’s going to happen if we use a Jersey City bus and start running it from Union City to the Medical Center?” said Healy. “When somebody falls getting on or off that bus, we’re going to get sued. We don’t have the insurance. It’s a last resort.”
Healy said that based on discussions with state Assembly officials, NJ Transit will eventually put a new bus into service in the next few weeks. He also tried to reassure the audience that interim bus service would likely be up and running by the middle of this week, but he could not guarantee that would happen.
Gaughan, also the chief of staff for Hudson County executive Tom DeGise, agreed with Healy and said the county is working on two separate plans to provide bus service.
The first plan is putting in place short-term bus service through the county’s Transportation Management Association, which operates under the Hudson County Improvement Authority. He said the county is in talks with a private bus company that would be paid through a fund monitored by the TMA.
He also said there is a county transportation service that currently takes seniors to area hospitals, and the usual route of that service could be amended to take seniors only to other destinations such as supermarkets.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org