Newark deserves quality public transportation. Here are three tactics to help get us there.

Newark deserves quality public transportation. Here are three tactics to help get us there.

by Brendan Latimer | Op-Ed Contributor | April 7, 2017

There is a quiet drama playing out on Newark streets. It is a door-to-door struggle felt by isolated pockets of the city, strained by an enormous physical gulf.

Consider this from the New York Times:

In a large, continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.

In Newark, the problem is grave. While the median income hovers at $30,966, eight percent of residents trek to work on “super-commutes” (exceeding 90 minutes), compared with the national average of 2.8 percent. To an even casual observer, bunched buses and rush-hour traffic suggest a philosophical reckoning is in the offing.

Simply put: Newarkers need a fast, frequent, reliable, and affordable way to get around their city. As we begin to welcome more millennials, tourists, and development — and grapple with its implications — creating a first-class transit network will be a policy imperative. Here are three cost-effective, tactical solutions to consider:

Implement best practices.

According to Transit Center, a transportation policy group, cities can revitalize their streets with streamlined simplicity. By physically separating bus lanes with traffic cones, priority corridors — like Broad and Market streets — will have little interference from rush hour traffic, reducing overall travel time and clearing the way for express routes and future upgrades.

A makeshift dedicated bus lane in Everett, Massachusetts prevents rush hour traffic from interfering with buses. Photo: The Boston Globe

Respect riders!

Thousands of Newarkers take public transit every day, yet suffer the indignity of standing in the rain or snow — or sweltering in the hot summer sun — without a shelter over their heads. The absence of this basic amenity at many stops signifies a lack of concern by New Jersey Transit, adding to commuter frustration. Studies show that even a basic bus shelter measurably decreases perceived commuter wait times, encouraging broader ridership overall.

A lack of bus shelters indicate neglect, and markets transit as an unappealing transit alternative. While nothing I’ve seen in Newark rivals Streetsblog’s 2016 winner of “Sorriest Bus Stop in America,” many Newark commuters can relate.

Enter the 21st century.

Install a convenient tap-and-go, off-board payment system that applies to the whole city, not just certain zones. There is a growing movement in the transit community for “Mobility as a Service,” where agencies and providers rethink the way they market their services — particularly in the age of Uber. Creating an app to refill a tap-and-go card — much like PATH already does — would make taking the bus a more attractive option not only for regular riders, but also passing tourists and younger residents. Individuals lacking smartphones or a data plan could still opt in; the plan would mandate a call center specifically for this service.

Tap-and-go fare payment systems reduce boarding time and makes riding the bus a convenience, rather than a headache. Photo: MasterCard News/Flickr

In many ways and in certain areas, transit is a civil right — a reminder of an era tainted by segregation, where train tracks divided race and class. Around the country, governments are taking pride in their people and investing in what matters. They acknowledge that mobility equals freedom.

It’s time for Newark to do the same.