Here’s the thing about public transportation in the City of New Brunswick… it’s pretty much nonexistent.
A majority of New Brunswick residents are deprived of adequate public transportation with the exception of NJ Transit’s exceedingly limited bus service and Rutgers’ transit system. With this inconvenience, residents are unofficially required to own a car in order to get around. As I discussed in my previous two posts, if the City of New Brunswick is serious about becoming a destination (a place where people desire to live, work, and play), then there are several steps that must be taken such as improving and expanding public transportation throughout the city. This can be done in collaboration with established institutions, such as Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers.
As it stands, NJ Transit serves New Brunswick via commuter rail at the downtown station, and offers five bus routes, all of which are designed to transport people in and out of the city as opposed to throughout it. The downtown train station, utilized by Amtrak and NJ Transit, serves an estimated 14,000 rail passengers daily. Similarly, the Rutgers transit system is designed (understandably) to transport students and professors among the four sub-campuses (College Ave, Livingston, Busch, and Cook/Douglass) that make up the University’s New Brunswick campus. Rutgers has the largest university transit system in the country and follows NJ Transit by being the second largest bus service in New Jersey. The system is comprised of a fleet of 50 buses that transport an estimated 70,000 students daily. To put the Rutgers transit system into perspective, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is a statewide public transit system, serving 38 of 39 RI communities, with 55 fixed bus routes and an average daily ridership of 71,000 passengers. The biggest complaints among students include inadequate weekend service and overcrowding on buses. Additionally, the way the current Rutgers transit system is set up does not provide sufficient service for students -both undergraduates and graduates- that live in off-campus housing.
NJ Transit’s bus service is not user-friendly. The bus stops lack adequate shelter from the elements, visibility to the public, and helpful route/service information (where are the system maps?) for passengers. As a result, the service is unattractive and inconvenient for users. Furthermore, since there are no bus routes that serve only New Brunswick (downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods), NJ Transit is promoting people to live outside of the city and to merely commute to and from the urban core. The lack of sufficient transit service and transit options are what incentivize residents to live outside of the city and use cars to get around. This explains the congestion on downtown streets as well as Route 18. The current system defeats the purpose of having public transit altogether, and it certainly does not make New Brunswick a modern sustainable city.
So what do I propose? Well, there are a few routes (pun intended) that the city can take. NJ Transit could make service more attractive and convenient by constructing new bus shelters, providing bus schedules and route information at stops, and creating new bus routes that circulate throughout New Brunswick. If this option is pursued, then the Rutgers transit system should be expanded to provide better connectivity between NJ Transit and Rutgers buses by realigning bus routes to share some stops in New Brunswick, which would accommodate off-campus students that don’t own cars. Since NJ Transit is a statewide system with a strapped budget, it might be more feasible (but more expensive) for New Brunswick to create its own local and independent public transit system that circulates residents and students around the city and Highland Park. Although the city currently has the Brunsquick shuttle, the service is limited and it is hardly ever used -I’m proposing a legitimate public transit system. The City of Santa Monica, California chose this option when creating The Big Blue Bus system that runs independently from the Los Angeles Metro. The Big Blue Bus also provides service to the University of California, Los Angeles. The other alternative for Rutgers is to expand its transit system (perhaps using city tax money to pay for a portion of operating costs) by transforming its current “circulatory bus network” into a “connective bus network” and creating additional bus routes that serve local neighborhoods. The “connective system” would provide bus service in each direction (similar to how the EE route functions on George St) and use main transfer stops to link other routes and NJ Transit. Click this link to get a more in-depth analysis of “connective bus networks.”
Whichever option the city and Rutgers decide to choose, there is no doubt that providing more efficient transportation options in New Brunswick is a critical part of attracting prospective business owners, residents, and students. Not to mention, investment in local public transit will help to transform the city into a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly urban environment where people can live, work, and play without owning a car.
For those that are interested, last semester I wrote a research paper that describes in more detail my proposal for a Rutgers “connective” transit system. To view my paper, click this link. Also, here are the links to my previous blog posts/proposals: The Great Wall of New Brunswick, Destination: New Brunswick, Snow Removal in New Brunswick: A Lesson From Providence, RI.