Bus service is improving, NJ Transit chief says — but riders still have their gripes

A regular on the 119 bus from Jersey City’s Heights said all he wants is a mobile app that works, so he’ll know about delays and plan accordingly.

Given the rare opportunity Thursday night to directly address the president and CEO of NJ Transit, he got in another shot: The screens at Port Authority are not always accurate, either.

Kevin Corbett, the boss of the agency that operates or leases bus routes, the light rail and trains heard those and other bus rider complaints during an 80-minute NJ Transit community meeting at School 28 on Hancock Ave. The event was led by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Heights Councilman Yousef Saleh.

The app issue was a big one for those who use mass transit daily. Corbett and NJ Transit’s Mike Kilcoyne, senior vice president of surface transportation and general manager, listened to customers, but were also there tout a success story.

After reclaiming the 10 and 119 bus routes last month that were previously contracted to Academy Bus, Corbett and Kilcoyne said there has been a 75% reduction in customer complaints for those lines.

The 119 route runs from Bayonne, through Jersey City and northern Hoboken, through the Lincoln Tunnel, and then the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. The 10 route is similar except its last stop is Journal Square.

Academy Bus lost the routes and paid a $20 million settlement to NJ Transit after it was accused of underreporting missed bus trips and over-billing New Jersey Transit for hours and miles driven.

Now that the 10 and 119 will be permanently run by NJ Transit, the arrival times on the app should be much more accurate since the information is coming directly from them, Kilcoyne said.

Changes to the 119 have proven successful, with 96% of trips being “on time” in the month since NJ Transit took over the route, Kilcoyne said.

“We’re really using more technology and making other investments so we can be more proactive and be more nimble,” said Corbett. “We are watching, and where we see crowds picking up, we are adding more equipment.”

Aside from the usual complaints regarding schedule delays, trouble with nighttime service and issues with the mobile app, some inquired about better access to Downtown Jersey City from the Heights and the number of accordion-style articulated buses being added.

A study currently underway will help NJ Transit map out a redesign of the bus network to fit commuters, the officials said.

Mukherji said he’s been working to make sure NJ Transit understand the boots-on-the-ground issues.

“(Kevin Corbett) genuinely has been incredibly responsive, particularly post-pandemic,” Mukherji said. “Better than being responsive is they’ve been proactive, he and his government affairs team, and reaching out to us, anticipating some of these concerns and asking how they could work with us to make things better.”

Speaking for constituents, Saleh asked why people see a logjam of buses mornings; and why the NJ Transit mobile app does not have accurate arrival times.

Kilcoyne said it is the job of road supervisors to oversee this, and the clumping is usually caused from late starts or other delays. Corbett noted that the 119 will be monitored more closely in September when schools open and more people return to in-person work.

There are now about a dozen articulated buses on the 119 route, said Kilcoyne, which can fit nearly double the passengers of a regular bus. This allows for an increased capacity on a single trip, which is important because not only is there a strain on the number of bus drivers NJ Transit has, but it reduces traffic going into the Port Authority bus terminal.

A shortage of drivers because of the increased competition with Amazon and other delivery companies for people with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) has also put a strain on operations, Corbett said. The agency has been offering a $6,000 signing bonus, he noted.