NJ Transit and the disservice it does to South Jersey transportation

Last night at quarter to six, I was standing on the corner of 13th & Market in Philadelphia waiting for the 406 bus to take me to the Camden Supper Club event at Old San Juan on Marlton Pike. I tried to get there early to make sure I wouldn’t miss the bus, but after waiting for 10 minutes, the time that both the NJ Transit online trip planner and their paper schedule told me to expect the bus came and went. Suddenly I felt a feeling I hadn’t remembered until that moment. This had happened before, a few months back, waiting for the same bus. I was late to dinner that night, having to wait 25 minutes for the next bus to New Jersey. Knowing that would happen again, I instead walked to 8th & Market and have PATCO my money instead, getting picked up at City Hall by a friend.

No one will be surprised that an NJ Transit bus just wouldn’t show up. Negative connotations to the bus, especially in the suburbs, is nearly universal, for various real or imagined reasons. But really looking at NJ Transit’s bus operations in South Jersey, passing by through biases and generalizations, you get a sense of just how bad a job they do at providing transportation throughout the region. Admittedly it’s hard to provide efficient transportation in sprawling suburbia, which most of New Jersey is. But consistently providing horrible service, even during the evening rush hour, gives you insight into just how little NJ Transit planners in Newark care about us down here in South Jersey.

The bus that never comes.

The bus that never comes.

I’ve heard it said that they don’t want people to use busses more, or else they’d have to provide more service. As cynical as that sounds, I’m starting to believe it’s true.

To be clear, the people who work for NJ Transit that I’ve ever met were always nice and helpful.

Camden, Development

Despite the promise of job training, hurdles remain high for some Camden residents

Over the past few years, many critiques have been written about the effort to lure employers to the beleaguered city of Camden by way of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks. Some articles have brought up the fact that some of that money is going to politically-connected entities such as Holtec, on whose board “powerful Democratic Party ‘boss'” George Norcross sits. Others have expressed worry at the high per-job cost to the state baked into these incentives. But possibly the most important thing to talk about is whether or not these companies will make a positive difference in the lives of Camden residents whose possible improved fortunes are often touted as reasons these tax breaks are worthwhile in the first place.

Some groups such as Camden Churches Organized for People are unconvinced. CCOP Vice Chair Ray Lamboy voiced concern last year that these companies coming into the city would hire many local residents. Others like New Jersey Policy Perspective Vice President Jon Whiten are concerned that the jobs created in Camden will be “fly-in, fly-out-type jobs” taken by suburbanites who drive their cars to isolated office parks and drive home in the evening, doing little good in the way of economic stimulus to their host city, such as in the case of the new Subaru headquarters located far from any city neighborhood with amenities employees can support.

In an effort to allay fears of city residents missing out, officials from the city of Camden and the Cooper Foundation announced in early September a job training initiative that “aims to train 100 city residents by the close of 2017.” Sessions aimed at residents interested in the program were rolled out later that month. But after attending one of those sessions attended by about 100 people, city resident Keith Benson was dismayed at what he learned. “Based on the mailer that went out, it seemed like a program that would get the community working immediately. As in after filling out some forms, ‘here’s a shovel’. But what it turned into was an infocrmational about maybe being 1 of the 10 accepted into a 10 week training course cycle to maybe get to work on a site in Camden.” In addition to so few people being enrolled in the program at a time, Benson learned that students would not be compensated during their training. In a city where many budgets run tight, this may seem like an unreasonable burden when the possibility of a job at the end is uncertain.

  • talk about this being about trained to enter a union, not “get a job”
  • talk about the problem with minority representation in unions:

“They said a car was mandatory because thought the first jobs will be in Camden, after the job is over, union members are likely to be sent all over to work and must be able to get to THOSE jobs. So that why “you must have a car that is registered to you and insured now.””


In a city in which 36% of households have no access to a car, this is another high barrier to employment. And since the jobs are in a city with public transportation, why should that disqualify you?

Built Environment, Demographics, Development

How to begin addressing New Jersey’s “millennial problem”

Over the past few days, two articles have come out that speak to a few weaknesses New Jersey is suffering from at the moment. The first is a Wall Street Journal piece about how the state has a “millennial problem”, detailing how younger people don’t want to live, work, or play in the state’s sprawling suburbia, nor could they afford it if they wanted to. The second rightly suggests that our overbuilding of suburban office parks in the 20th century has put has at a disadvantage as younger people today look for work in dynamic urban environments and not the pastoral campuses of the generation before us. Both articles get at something I think about a lot, especially as a millennial that does live in this state. I was inspired to put together some ideas that elected officials and civic leaders would be wise to consider if they want to address the fundamental problems our state has going into the 21st century.

Though New Jersey overplayed its hand in building a sprawling suburban landscape in last decade, there are some remedies that would help to keep it relevant in this one. The first thing it must do is properly invest in its public transportation network. New Jersey’s links to jobs in the very hot New York City and Philadelphia job markets has always been a strength, and with more jobs moving back into central cities, these links must be made even stronger. NJ Transit has been starved of consistent funding for too long, and it shows through increased delays and frequent equipment failures. It needs a reliable and dedicated funding source so it can perform backlogged maintenance and network expansion. In my area of South Jersey, that means bringing the Glassboro-Camden light rail line, which will connect Gloucester County to Camden and Philadelphia, to life, and making the Atlantic City Rail Line more frequent and Philadelphia-focused, with possible new stops along the way.

Simply put, millennials aren’t going to flock to cul-de-sac neighborhoods where everything they want to do outside their homes requires a trip by car on a congested highway. People in my generation are basing our lives around proximity to our jobs and what amenities our communities can provide. In that vein, New Jersey land use policy needs to shift toward supporting zoning that allows denser mixed-use projects to be more easily built. In most post-war suburban towns, there is a strong separation of residential, commercial, and business uses, which mandates that residents need a car to get anywhere. More mixed-use projects, perhaps with retail on the ground floor and housing and/or office space on top, would mean more vibrancy through a diversity of uses and end the requirement that cars are an absolute necessity to live in the state. Given that we’re a generation more averse than any other to the expensive cost of owning a car, anything that can be done to reduce the need for one is going to be a win for the state. And if these mixed-use projects can be built near rail stations into New York or Philadelphia, we’ll start to see how truly synergistic our relationship with those two cities can be.

Finally, lawmakers would do well to increase investment in New Jersey’s own cities like Newark, Jersey City, Camden, or Trenton. The appreciation for a dynamic urban environment isn’t limited to external cities alone. Newark and Jersey City have come alive thanks to recent interest, and cities like Camden and Trenton could see the same if properly invested in. Indeed, EDA tax incentives are bringing hundreds of jobs back to Camden, a city that suffered historic disinvestment in the 20th century. If Camden, Trenton, Passaic, or Elizabeth are nurtured and successfully attract jobs like they once had, every community around them, and especially those suburbs on rail lines connected to them, will greatly benefit.

Just because the craze of suburbanization is nearing an end in the Northeast doesn’t mean that New Jersey has to suffer. With a little imagination and foresight, we can envision a state that successfully adapts to the changing tastes of the 21st century.