In South Jersey’s low density and rural areas, there is limited or no public transportation. Yet we are experiencing a substantial increase in the construction of large business parks and other employment-generating businesses locating in these areas. Most often, these businesses require a no/low-skilled workforce. However, this very workforce does not have the financial means to afford a personal vehicle and therefore must rely on public transportation. Thus, employers struggle to recruit and retain employees and residents struggle to find employment.
Addressing these challenges, Cross County Connection partnered with the Pascale Sykes Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to building strong families by providing programing to support working low-income families. This 10-year partnership has resulted in the implementation of three Community Shuttle services in Atlantic and Gloucester counties. The primary purpose of these shuttles is to provide transit-dependent residents with access to employment opportunities. According to Census data, more than 21,000 households in Atlantic and Gloucester counties have no access to a motor vehicle. Approximately 70% of the Community Shuttle passengers do not have a vehicle and 64% are commuting to work.
These shuttles are open to the general public and provide excellent connections with NJ Transit bus and rail services, giving passengers access to the region-wide transportation network. In Atlantic County, the Route 54/40 Shuttle provides service between Hammonton and Buena, and the English Creek-Tilton Road Shuttle serves Egg Harbor Township and the City of Northfield. In Gloucester County, the Pureland East-West Shuttle travels between NJ Transit’s Avandale Park & Ride, the communities along Route 322, and the Pureland Industrial Complex.
At the onset of the pandemic, these shuttles maintained a significantly higher percentage of their ridership than the larger public transportation systems. This is due to the fact that shuttle passengers work in essential services, cannot work remotely and are transit-dependent. If they wanted to work, they had no choice but to ride the shuttles. Without the shuttles, many passengers would need public assistance to support their families.
These Community Shuttles rely on NJ Transit grants that require 50% matching funds, currently provided by the Pascale Sykes Foundation. However, the foundation’s long-time planned spend down is in process and it will close at the end of 2022. If no source of replacement funds is identified, the shuttles are in danger of being discontinued. This will not only have a devastating impact on passengers but also on businesses and the local economy.
The Community Shuttles strengthen South Jersey economically. A 2018 Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia study found that the Atlantic County Community Shuttles provided underserved residents with access to employment opportunities otherwise inaccessible. The American Public Transportation Association emphasizes that rural public transportation strengthens local economies, with every $1 invested in public transportation generating $4 in economic returns, and 87% of public transit trips having a direct local economic impact.
A valuable pool of potential employees is available for employment opportunities if public transportation services were available to them. The local and regional economy benefits when transit-dependent individuals can travel throughout the South Jersey region. Although NJ Transit is committed to continuing grant funding for these shuttle services, they cannot fund 100% of the costs. The region needs the South Jersey business community and local governments to assist with the continuation of these vital Community Shuttles.
To learn more about how your business can ensure public transportation availability and promote equitable economic growth in South Jersey, contact Cross County Connection and visit www.driveless.com for more information.
Ronda R. Urkowitz is the executive director of Cross County Connection TMA. The nonprofit organization is the designated Transportation Management Association for South Jersey’s seven counties. The organization works with the business community, local governments and the general public on sustainable transportation options, with the primary goal of getting people to work.