New federal funding will allow several projects from NJ Transit to move forward, helping to advance the agency’s sustainability efforts, bus garage electrification and first/last mile transportation solutions.
The state transportation agency and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority announced $43.6 million in federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) funding for seven projects Nov. 9.
“NJ Transit and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority collaborated closely to select a slate of innovative, environmentally-friendly, and forward-looking projects to receive this vital federal funding,” NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett said in a prepared statement. In addition to supporting NJ Transit’s own sustainability efforts, the work will also support goals from the state’s Energy Master Plan, Corbett added.
NJTPA Chair John Bartlett said his organization collaborated closely with NJ Transit to develop the plan for the funding, which will be made available to NJ Transit as part of NJTPA’s Fiscal Year 2022-2025 Transportation Improvement Program.
“The bus electrification, pilot shuttle program, bicycle sheds and studies will help us meet the goals in our long-range transportation plan, by improving air quality, making transportation more accessible, and encouraging healthy alternatives,” Bartlett, also a Passaic County commissioner, said in a prepared statement. “This is a great example of how we can use federal funding to make a difference for residents and commuters.”
Hilton Bus Garage Electrification – $24.5 million
In the announcement, this effort was identified as the next step in NJ Transit’s transition to a fully zero emission bust fleet. The work will implement an overhead pantograph charging system with hands-free charging, offering increased safety, and that is scalable for mass-charging. The project will provide a standardized, overhead gantry system to support the charges and charging cabinet equipment.
Aside from the implications for the region, the work aims to create a refined system with simple and efficient charging infrastructure that can be rolled out to the majority of NJ Transit’s bus garages. The CRRSAA funding proposed would pay for the pantograph charging system and supporting charging equipment.
Earlier this year, NJ Transit awarded a $4.33 million contract to AECOM to design infrastructure for a limited deployment of battery electric buses at Maplewood’s Hilton Garage in addition to conducting a survey of conditions at all of the agency’s 16 bus garages statewide. So far, efforts toward bus garage electrification down south at Newton Bus Garage in Camden County have focused on implementing a limited number of battery electric buses via plug-in charger.
Microtransit Shuttle Pilot Routes – $7 million
This effort aims to create at least two community shuttle services offering first/last mile access to transit hubs in areas where traditional, fixed-route service may not be the best option. The CRRSSA funds will support a multiyear pilot program offering on-demand service in the NJTPA region from smaller, accessible minibuses or vans that could be hailed by an app “or other suitable means.”
Potential connections from the pilot could include connecting residential areas of Monmouth County with the main Route 9 corridor, bringing together two in-demand bus corridors between Englewood and Teaneck in Bergen County, or first/last mile solutions in the Port Newark/Newark Airport area, according to the announcement.
Solar Bus Shelters – Retrofit and New Design Constructability & Pilot Implementation – $6 million
Work to develop designs for a solar-powered, low-maintenance bus shelter aims to improve safety – through the addition of lighting generated using the solar energy – and to produce a practical, but aesthetically pleasing, structure.
In addition to implementing the new design with a pilot project and then incorporating it into the existing bus shelter program, the announcement said that this work would also include retrofitting up to 10% of existing bus shelters in the NJTPA region with solar lighting where possible.
Bike Sheds – $2 million
A Request for Proposals from NJ Transit will seek a service provider to build, operate and maintain these structures, which will be able to store multiple bicycles or scooters at rail and bus hubs. The effort aims to encourage non-motorized first/last mile access to such depots in the NJTPA region. According to the announcement, the sheds would be durable, secure and accessible 24/7 through an app or other method of convenience.
Electric Minibuses – $1.5 million
According to the announcement, there is a growing interest in deploying battery-electric powered minibuses for NJ Transit’s Access Link complementary paratransit system, and the minibuses that are purchased and distributed by the agency for use by county, municipal, and nonprofit subrecipients of Federal Transit Administration Section 5310 and 5311 funds. However, the experience and readiness to make these purchases is low.
The funding would allow NJ Transit to buy up to five such electric minibuses and charges for the NJTPA region, as part of the Access Link fleet, and potentially through a cooperative purchase with another state also pursuing battery electric minibuses. Those vehicles, then, would create a “living laboratory,” as the announcement referred it it, demonstrating how to operate, maintain and schedule paratransit service for the larger agency and its subrecipient partners.
Local Electric Vehicle Minibus Transition Study and Technical Support – $1 million
The CRRSSA grant will fund a study led by NJ Transit, with consultant support as needed, to identify knowledge gaps in transitioning to electric vehicle minibuses and to provide technical assistance to subrecipients in the NJTPA region and Access Link systems looking to deploy electric minibuses. The study would also develop guidance for local and nonprofit transportation service providers and support state and local EV Infrastructure Deployment Plans.
NewBus Hudson – $1 million
This project looks to better understand ridership trends and barriers to mass transit utilization in Hudson County by redesigning the bus network. Study tactics include a market assessment of specific localities and potential customers to determine effectiveness and competitiveness of transit options; service evaluation, an analysis of strengths, deficiencies, gaps and opportunities of the existing local bus network; and stakeholder and public involvement to develop a comprehensive Public Involvement Plan that produces a range of approaches targeting key internal and external stakeholders, according to the announcement. That collected data would then be used to create service and capital plans that are expected to include strategies and solutions for addressing a regional decline in bus ridership.
Members of the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., all Democrats, praised the funding.
“Public transit is vital to communities across the state, with people depending on it to get to work, buy groceries, and go to the doctors,” said Menendez.
“This federal funding will help modernize our state’s transportation infrastructure, create a cleaner, healthier environment, and make mass transit more accessible for New Jersey commuters,” said Booker. “I look forward to seeing the benefits these projects bring to our state’s economy and public health.”
“This $43.6 million in federal funding will help our region continue to play an essential role in America’s economy,” said Pascrell Jr., who helped approve this funding as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.