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Harsh words for NJT-Push a Stroller Across 6 Lanes? 6.21.2006

By Rick Racela

CREST HAVEN – A healthy sprinter wearing the latest Nikes could probably make it across the parkway’s six lanes between the west side of Crest Haven Road and the Crest Haven Complex.
But how about a mom with one kid in a stroller and one clinging to her hand, on her way to a Health Department clinic?
Or how about an elderly person in a wheelchair trying to visit her son in the county jail?
First-hand accounts of both those efforts were recounted at the freeholder meeting June 13 in an occasionally bitter attack on the refusal of the New Jersey Transit Corp. to take all Crest Haven-bound passengers inside the complex.
Its position is that it has nine trips entering the complex and people who take other runs are let off as a courtesy, knowing they won’t get dropped off in the complex.
A “very disturbed” Vicki Clark, county Chamber of Commerce executive director, brought the issue to freeholders. The chamber building is at the intersection in question.
She told the story of the mother with the two children and said it was “not acceptable” that they should have to cross the highway.
“I cannot let this issue go,” she said.
She wrote NJT April 21 asking that it “stop this practice immediately by directing all drivers to take an extra minute or two to assure…passenger’s safety by driving them across the Garden State Parkway…”
John Leon, acing director of government and community relations for NJT, replied May 15 that it had recently added four trips to the original five that enter the complex, on a schedule requested by the county and Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew (D-1st).
“Current ridership does not warrant routing every single trip into the complex,” he wrote, “and the additional time it takes to enter the complex and turn around would inconvenience the other customers…
“Passengers who are not on those specific runs, Leon wrote, “know they will not be taken inside (the complex).”
He did not return this newspaper’s phone calls.
“To me, they’re saying passenger safety doesn’t matter,” said Clark.
Freeholder Gerald M. Thornton, liaison to county human services and to its own Fare Free Transportation, said the situation was “outrageous.”
He told the story of two women climbing off a bus, one with a wheelchair, and “the driver left in seconds, kicking up gravel.”
“Then they tried to push her across the parkway to the jail,” he said.
“They can’t make a damned two-minute circle around here (Crest Haven)?” asked Thornton. “It’s shameful to treat citizens like this.”
“It’s a courtesy stop,” said county Engineer Dale Foster.
“Not a helluva lot of courtesy,” said Thornton.
His reaction to NJT’s claim of nine trips into the complex?
“I will be shocked if they do,” said Thornton.
“I don’t believe it,” said Clark.  “I frequently see people standing on the west side and crossing. But if it’s nine or 19, it’s not adequate. We can spend billions to remove the traffic lights on the parkway but not consider the safety of pedestrians?”
But Steve Hampton, deputy county administrator and point man in dealing with NJT, said he believes the agency does “swing into” the complex “nine times a day on week days and five times on Saturday and Sunday.
“That’s the 552 bus,” he said. “Other routes, 313 and 315, do not. They are unwilling to do it because of the volume and duration of time it takes to swing in there. They publish a schedule and would like to be somewhat close.
“I haven’t had any discussions with NJT since April,” said Hampton. “There is always room for continued negotiations, but it is unlikely we will have every bus coming down the parkway swinging into Crest Haven.”
“Not all the routes make a loop,” agreed Van Drew. “We have to try to at least increase the number of routes, or, hopefully, have all the routes make the loop.
“I disagree that it is too time-consuming,” he said.  “We will continue to push that issue.”
Asked if FareFree Transportation could do anything to help, Hampton said it was “well-subscribed and with its number of drivers and buses, has no ability to provide additional service.”
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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