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