Op-Ed: Public Transportation in South Jersey Needs Urgent Upgrade

Frank W. Minor | January 9, 2020 | Opinion
Tri-county bus system would give region’s working poor access to better employment opportunities, but more immediate solutions are warranted
Frank W. Minor

For over two decades, Logan Township has seen tremendous growth in its industrial parks. With that growth, we have seen job opportunities increase at a steady pace. The strong relationship that the governing body has developed with our corporate community allows us to work collectively to identify issues that impact our businesses and our residents.

To that end, last year we embarked on a listening tour. After visiting a number of companies in our industrial parks, and meeting with several human resource managers and executives, it became clear that many businesses were experiencing difficulty filling various positions. To get a handle on the size and depth of the problem, we sent a survey to every business entity within the township. The results of the survey were staggering.

There are currently an estimated 600 job openings in the combined industrial parks within Logan Township, with the potential of more being added due to development along Route 322 and additional business openings in 2020. Many of these jobs are for unskilled labor with fair compensation and benefits. Employers have advised that the unskilled positions are difficult to fill due to the inability of employees to access adequate transportation.

After recognizing the size of the need, Logan Township met with our transportation partners in New Jersey Transit, South Jersey Transportation Authority and Cross-County Connection and shared the results of our survey. In response, the Pureland shuttle expanded its routes to include a Saturday shuttle with run times similar to its Monday-to-Friday schedule. But this is still not adequate to meet transportation needs, as:

  • This shuttle has limited daytime hours;
  • There is no Sunday service for the shuttle, while much of the business park is in operation;
  • There is no shuttle for people working second and third shifts;
  • The current base funding source for the shuttle (supplemented by matching funds) is Pasqual Sykes’ private foundation. The funding is due to expire in 2020, and without a replacement funding source, shuttle service would end, leaving many people who rely on it to get to work without transportation.

New Jersey Transit also provides some transportation to the industrial parks, but the available schedule, which is quite limited, often requires long commutes and transfers.

‘See a need, fill a need’

I have heard it said, “See a need, fill a need.”

Logan Township’s industrial parks need employees. And this need is only growing, as our businesses grow and additional business partners develop in our community and region. Based on the above average unemployment rates detailed below, many in our region, most specifically Salem and Cumberland counties, need employment:

  • Gloucester – unemployment: 3.6% (as of August 2019); poverty: 7.8% (as of 2018)
  • Salem – unemployment: 4.6%; poverty: 11.6%
  • Cumberland – unemployment: 5.1%; poverty: 14.6%
  • National – unemployment: 3.5% (as of September 2019); poverty: 11.8% (as of 2018)

This need may warrant the creation of a tri-county public-private bus system, electric or natural gas powered, serving Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties. But funding and planning for such an initiative would render this a long-term project. In the interim, we see the immediate need for the following transportation improvements:

  • Added Monday-to-Friday run times on the 402 bus line;
  • Added weekend run times on the 402 line;
  • Bus line service increase or a new line to cover the 322 corridor;
  • New bus line or 401 bus line modification for Salem to Logan service;
  • Expansion of Sunday shuttle service;
  • Gaps filled for Monday to Friday service;
  • Replacement of lost foundation funding (in 2021) helping to support the current Monday to Saturday shuttle service.

There are people who want to work, but transportation issues prevent them from filling open positions. We can change that. It is time to expand public transportation services in South Jersey so that people who want to work can actually get to available jobs.