With the regional economy slowly reopening and moving away from the COVID-19 shutdown as the pandemic slows down, New Jersey Transit said it is resuming full bus service as of Monday, and providing more train service.
That also comes in response to New York City entering “Phase One” of its reopening, and the first relaxation of strict rules meant to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent the local health infrastructure from totally collapsing, according to transit officials.
Buses that have been running on a modified schedule returned to a full weekday schedule on Monday, according to Kevin Corbett, chief executive officer of the statewide mass transit agency. Trains meanwhile, are running on an “enhanced holiday schedule.”
“We deployed additional trains strategically,” he said Monday at Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily COVID-19 press briefing at the Trenton War Memorial.
The transit agency, more broadly, has adopted a “Ride to Recovery” campaign, which will show the “roughly 90 percent of our customers who haven’t been riding” NJ Transit that “our system is safe, clean and ready for them to return.”
NJ Transit’s ridership has nosedived by nearly 100 percent as commuters either lost their jobs, are telecommuting or avoiding public transit altogether out of fear of exposure. Service, as a result, has been drastically reduced since March.
The agency has seen revenues dry up as well, and is now dependent on $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 rescue aid, on top of another $1.2 billion being sought to plug growing budget holes.
But data has been promising lately, Corbett said. Numbers have gone down from their peaks in mid-April in the number of employees testing positive for COVID-19 and those self-quarantining because they might have been exposed to the virus.
Meanwhile, the number of employees returning to work afterward has steadily risen, Corbett added.
Riders who return to use the buses and trains are asked to continue wearing face coverings and practice social distancing – a minimum 6-foot distance between any two people – Corbett said. They’re also encouraged to work from home when possible, and for employers to stagger shifts among workers where telecommuting is not an option, so as to avoid an influx of riders during rush hour.
“By definition, we’ve got to be incredibly vigilant about face coverings and social distancing and hygiene,” Murphy said.
Neither he nor Corbett addressed how exactly the use of face masks would be enforced.
The agency’s 10-year plan, released on Monday, calls for establishing a “safe and healthy riding experience for our customers” by implementing these same measures, but also speaks just in broad strokes, not indicating how it would be enforced or specific benchmarks to be achieved.
Corbett said that ridership levels on the trains did not justify adding more schedules back online, just to have those resources available on an as-needed basis.
“When ridership hits the 50 percent mark, it will be difficult to take the mass out of mass transit,” he warned.