WEST MILFORD, N.J. -- Senior citizens and people with disabilities in West Milford will start the new year with improved paratransit pickup — but reduced local jitney service.
After losing a $110,000 federal grant due to demographics, the local bus service will be reduced to three days a week.
It will run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and cost $1 each way. It previously ran daily and cost fifty cents.
"The grant we've gotten from 2011-16 provided 75 percent of the funds. The operating budget of $147,000 is now reduced to $37,000 and as a result, we had to scale down the service," said Timothy Roetman, Director of Community Services and Recreation.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Lisa Torbic said census data shows the 80-square-mile municipality has become too urban to qualify for rural communities funding from the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) 5311 program. The program is overseen and administered by NJ Transit.
Torbic said they determine the grants using a formula based on census data, which indicates the township is no longer rural. She said the township could possibly qualify under the FTA 5310 program for suburban/urban areas.
Although nothing in West Milford's population has changed, Roetman said they were told they had an increase in densely populated clusters. For example, summer lake cottages from the 1930s are now considered a densely populated cluster because the lots are so close together.
Members of the council tried to fight the change in status, Roetman said, but nothing could be done. They instead shifted focus from fighting for the grant, to getting the transportation in place.
The town had been working with Passaic County to improve its paratransit services to West Milford, and with the grant for its jitney gone, knew they had a strong case, Roetman said.
Paratransit offers free door-to-door pickup to non-emergency doctor appointments, shopping centers, community events, and county-run nutrition and daycare sites for senior citizens and disabled residents.
"The problem was people had to wait two weeks to get an appointment," said Roetman, noting it was mostly a logistics issue since the buses were stored in Wayne.
"If the buses are stored here and start and end their routes in West Milford, there will be more pickups in a day and week," he said. "Having someone take the calls who knows the area, they can craft a route where there’s not a lot of lag time and that’s more direct."
The Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Dec. 13 to give West Milford control over its paratransit and offer some assistance with funding.
Under the MOA, the county will provide $10,000 earmark of funding, two paratransit buses, two full-time bus drivers, access to the software used to schedule appointments, three tablets to schedule the drivers and appointments, and all major repairs to buses being used.
The township will designate an already-existing employee to coordinate services, fuel costs, and all minor maintenance to the vehicles.
The new jitney schedule is effective Jan. 4. The new paratransit services go into effect sometime between Jan. 15 and Feb. 1.
For more information and schedules, contact the Community Services and Recreation Department, (973) 728-2860.
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