WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved a $328,680 contract between the township and Mobility Coach, which will provide drivers for the town’s jitneys for the next year, at its June 25 meeting. While the resolution was approved unanimously, council members discussed possibly charging for the currently free service in the future to offset the rising costs of running the commuter and senior citizen jitney.
“This went out for competitive bidding and only one bid came back,” Councilman Joe Krakoviak said at the meeting. “It’s an example of a service where the cost is growing significantly more than the ridership.”
According to Krakoviak, who has long supported charging fees for jitney rides, the cost of running the jitney has risen by more than 75 percent since 2016.
“While the cost is going up very high, the ridership is only up 21 percent during that time,” Krakoviak said. “Maybe this is something that we should consider whether to start charging some portion of that.”
Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown agreed, saying that the budget line item for the jitney is something to which township officials should pay attention. Councilwoman Susan McCartney said that if the township decided to instate a fee to ride the jitney, a system would have to be put in place to avoid the driver carrying cash.
“We’ve talked about some administrative fee for if we were to charge, and we were looking at an analysis of what it would cost to make some kind of swipe or card so that the drivers are not carrying cash and how residents would pay if they were to pay,” she said.
During the discussion, council President Jerry Guarino said he doesn’t want to charge residents for the jitney because residents want it to be free. West Orange is currently the only town in Essex County that doesn’t charge for jitney rides.
“When I talk to residents, they think it is a benefit,” Guarino said at the meeting, arguing that having a fee would be inequitable. “It’s helped real estate; it’s helped to sell the township. If you’re charging and making them pay, it saves overall, but then you’re going to put the additional burden on the people who use the shuttle, so where’s the equity?”
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino also wanted to discuss the possibility of a jitney fee, and suggested it could be done through the community pass the recreation department uses to charge for some activities. Casalino does not, however, want to charge senior citizens to use the jitney.
“I’ve been a supporter of the program,” she said. “It brings a benefit to our seniors because the jitney is used during the day for our senior programs. I think, though, we’re at the point now where we have to have the discussion. Since I’ve been on the council I’ve felt at the very least we should have identification cards so we can identify West Orange residents, and I think we could do it more cost effectively through the community pass program that we utilize through the recreation department.”
Casalino compared charging for the jitney to the township charging a fee to use the Ginny Duenkel Pool.
“Not everyone uses the pool, and those who do use it pay a minimal fee for it,” she said. “They don’t pay full price of what it would cost to run the pool, but they do pay a fee and maybe we have to entertain that for the jitney riders.”
Krakoviak clarified that he does not want to cut the jitney service at all, but wants to create more revenue in the budget.
“I’m not suggesting we cut the service in any way, I’m just saying that when we’re looking at such a large property tax increase this year, the decisions we make are harder,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of low-hanging fruit and maybe this is an area that we can start offsetting some of the cost while keeping the service.”