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Transportation pros brainstorm service upgrades

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Transportation industry-ites say public agencies have made strides in providing special services to elderly and handicapped riders, but they say more has to be done including partner agreements with ride-sharing companies.

Transportation industry-ites say public agencies have made strides in providing special services to elderly and handicapped riders, but they say more has to be done including partner agreements with ride-sharing companies.

Transportation professionals, gathered Jan. 31 at the NJHA Conference and Events Center in Princeton, said conventional top-down thinking at the state and federal level has become too expensive.

“The one-size-fits-all mentality, which means we’re doing things this way, because we’ve always done them that way needs to end, if it has not already ended,” said Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association. “We are entering a new period. … Our transportation system works great if you can get in a private automobile and go. Other than that, in many parts of the country there are few options. ... We’ve been spending more money than we take in, and it’s really unsustainable.”

Bogren warned that many Americans cannot reach their doctor because they do not have a car or public transportation. The advent of lower-cost ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have helped, he added.

"The one-size fits-all mentality, which means we're doing things this way because we've always done them that way needs to ends, if it has not already ended."

Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association

“Many people in our industry thought they won’t last,” Bogren said. “Wrong. Because they respond to what customers want. Too often transit says ‘you need to respond to what transit wants.’ That is not the right equation.”

Zenobia Fields, department director of planning for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, said public agencies could benefit from partnerships with Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services.

“We need to subsidize things like Ryde4Life, GoGoGrandparent, but when we look at federal regulations we have difficulty with that,” Fields said. “Our job is having that conversation on many levels to make it happen.”

Michael Vieira, director of special transportation services in Essex County, discussed public-private partnerships in his county.

“There are jobs along those corridors that public transportation does not hit,” Vieira said. “We start the shuttle where the public transportation buses stop and we proceed along the Route 10 corridor and hit all of those companies. There is a lot of work up there and there are no sidewalks either. Without our service, how would these people get to their jobs?”

Said Anna Magri, who works for New Jersey Transit as the director of local programs/minibus support/community transportation: “Our mission is to provide improved accessibility and mobility for our state’s seniors. A lot of our services feed New Jersey Transit’s bus and rail stations.”

Heather Smith-Bermudez, the general manager of NJ Transit, discussed her employer’s accessible services.

“All of our buses are lift-equipped,” Smith-Bermudez said. “That’s a big statement. I started with New Jersey Transit about 15 years ago. When I made that statement back then, about one-third of our buses were lift-equipped.

“All of our buses kneel, meaning the first step lowers,” she said. “We offer priority seating for people with disabilities. We have announcements.”

Smith-Bermudez also detailed the approach of Access Link, which provides origin-to-destination services for people with disabilities. Reservations must be made one day to seven days in advance, she said. Customers must be ready for pick-up within a window of 40 minutes. Cancellations must be made at least 90 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.

She credited a customer for coining her mission of “being wheels to the world.”

“I feel it’s important that everyone know what their job is every day and what their purpose is,” Smith-Bermudez said. “We have definitely heard what our customers want and need and are going to try to make that happen.”

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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