Sunday, November 21, 2010

Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Bus to Nowhere

Another case study in brilliant strategic thinking. All on your dime, of course.
A new shuttle bus service began last month that runs a 21-mile route from Vernon to Hardyston for Manhattan-bound commuters — and it only costs $1. Unfortunately, it hasn’t had any passengers yet.

The non-profit commuter group that arranged for the shuttles hasn’t given up hope yet, but soon, it may have to.
Good thing they're a non-profit group. At the current rate they may make a profit somewhere around 2165, if only they can find some riders.
"At some point we may have to consider" abandoning the idea, said Don Watt, vice president of TransOptions, a Cedar Knolls-based group whose mission is to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in northern New Jersey.
Don Watt's a quick learner, obviously. Even a man of his stature--hey, he's a vice president already--can actually realize a bus line with zero riders probably isn't worth the effort. But he means well.
Watt, who designed the Vernon Area Shuttle for TransOptions, also said the new bus service only started on Nov. 1 and people are sometimes slow to change their daily commuting habits.

"All bus services start virtually with no ridership," said Watt, who made a presentation Monday to the Vernon Township Council and has sent electronic notices to area employers in an effort to drum up ridership.
But Don, do any bus services survive with no ridership? Watt laments that lack of awareness. Well, they have some now.
Although the route wouldn’t work for Dan Kadish because he lives near the New York state border and takes an NJ Transit bus from Warwick, N.Y., to his job in Manhattan, Kadish said the new shuttle service may have not been sufficiently advertised before it was launched.

"I’m not really aware of it. The problem is in the advertising. I’ve seen it (the shuttle) around but didn’t know what it was about," said Kadish, who is a teacher at a technical school in Manhattan.

But Watt said the three-year, $371,000 federal grant that’s used to fund the Vernon Area Shuttle doesn’t permit extensive paid advertising. The current route with one bus will cost $80,000 annually with the remainder of the grant money set aside for future expansion.
So they're sinking $451,000 total into a bus route with zero riders and also planning for expansion? Huh? What would that be, one rider daily? But Watt's not discouraged.
"We don’t have a self-imposed deadline" to abandon the line, said Watt. "It’ll be several months at least. We’re hoping to see some momentum. Maybe one week we’ll get three riders and 10 the next week, and we can build on that."
Oh sure, we should all expect ridership to increase now with the treacherous winter driving months ahead.

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