DeCamp Bus Lines suspends service due to low ridership

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Another one bites the dust, as the 150-year-old Montclair-based company DeCamp Bus Lines becomes another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout — at least for the time being. On Aug. 7, the company issued a statement that it was “suspending all service” due to the “sustained effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

DeCamp has been a vital transportation service for many commuters in Essex County who work in New York City. But, during the COVID-19 lockdown, DeCamp has seen a 90 percent decrease in ridership, falling from approximately 3,000 riders each day to only 300 each day. 

While this will undoubtedly cause hardship for many of DeCamp’s loyal commuters, there are options. At this time, Coach USA and NJ Transit have both announced that they will cross-honor DeCamp tickets while the bus company’s routes are suspended.

“We are pleased to announce a partnership with Coach USA while our routes are suspended,” DeCamp Bus Lines announced on Aug. 7. “Just hand in your DeCamp tickets to a Coach USA driver to ride their bus this month. Schedule details from West Orange to New York can be found here:” 

While NJ Transit will also cross-honor DeCamp tickets, there have been calls for the state transportation agency to assume DeCamp’s suspended bus lines. But NJ Transit spokesperson Nancy Snyder said that NJ Transit simply cannot take over these lines at this time.

“NJ Transit wants you and your constituents and residents to know that, although DeCamp is a private carrier and NJ Transit does not have the resources to absorb DeCamp’s lines, there are a number of transit alternatives available for DeCamp customers until the private carrier resumes regular service,” NJ Transit said in a statement.

In addition to NJ Transit rail service along the Morris & Essex and Montclair Boonton lines, NJ Transit operates bus service in the Essex–Hudson area. NJ Transit buses Nos. 28 and 29 serve different sections of Bloomfield and No. 13 serves Nutley, to feed NJ Transit rail stations. Bus No. 191 serves Montclair. Other buses serve areas outside Essex County.

“Additionally, please note that all of the park and rides have plenty of capacity,” NJ Transit said.

Assemblyman John McKeon is one of a few politicians who have reached out to NJ Transit for increased service in the area while DeCamp is closed.

“I’m disappointed. It’s disappointing whenever there are cutbacks on public transportation,” McKeon said in an Aug. 10 phone interview. “I’d like to see the service continue. But it’s a private company, so there’s not much I can do. I sent a letter to NJ Transit requesting that they cover these routes. It’s tough for NJ Transit to do as well, but I hope they will thoughtfully consider an alternative. This is an important route for commuters heading to New York.”

With DeCamp currently closed, some are concerned the company will not reopen and are even more adamant that an alternative needs to be found. While McKeon did not express any doubts regarding DeCamp resuming service, he too feels that better options are needed.

“Of course I understand why this has happened. With everything going on, ridership was down to something like 200 riders a day,” he said. “When things return to normalcy, I hope we’ll have something in place to get commuters where they’re going.”

Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy requesting that the governor look into ways to assist private transportation companies during the time of coronavirus.

“I am writing to express my concern regarding a pressing matter which affects DeCamp, a six-generation private family business who has provided transportation services to northern New Jersey residents since 1870. DeCamp has announced it will be suspending all services as of Friday, Aug. 7. The residents of Montclair, Bloomfield, West Orange and other surrounding communities in Essex County depend on the services of DeCamp. Without reliable commuter and charter transportation service companies, the quality of life for so many of our residents will be severely impacted in a negative fashion,” Gill wrote.

“The CARES Act allocated $1.4 billion to New Jersey to keep vital transportation services running. These federal funds have been accessed by NJ Transit, and, thankfully, they have been able to continue providing their services. Unfortunately, private companies like DeCamp have not been able to access these same federal funds. The Bus Association of New Jersey has estimated that private operators account for about 35 percent of the scheduled bus service in the state, based on passenger miles,” Gill continued. “The Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act was introduced on the floor of the Senate on July 1 and is currently under review by the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Should the bill pass, $10 billion of federal aid will be provided for transportation relief to states around the country. This will certainly help the situation, but our residents that rely on private bus companies cannot wait. Please look into what can be done on the state and local level to assist these private carrier companies and our residents who rely on their services.”

For residents who do rely on DeCamp, even during coronavirus, this suspension of service is a blow.

“West Orange residents have come to depend on DeCamp Bus Lines, who has served our town for several generations,” West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said in an Aug. 10 email. “Our community will be impacted by their loss as many will now need to find an alternate means for commuting. This unfortunately is a direct result of low ridership due to the effects of the COVID virus, which has made this action necessary. We remain hopeful that service will one day be restored and that the shutdown will not be permanent.”

According to Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, not only is the suspension of service a blow, but its suddenness contributes to the issue.

“The manner in which DeCamp decided to suspend a bus service that is relied upon by many Bloomfield residents is completely unacceptable. Our township and residents, who have long been loyal riders of DeCamp, were not given any advance notice of these suspensions and only learned about it from a social media post,” Venezia said in an Aug. 11 email. “As a result, I am calling on the state and New Jersey Transit to come up with a plan that would allow for a new bus line from Bloomfield to New York City. Our residents need a reliable bus service to the city that will replace DeCamp and avoid further turmoil for our commuters.”