More transportation needed
Seniors ask township for increase in bus service
Photos by Linda Smith Hancharick The township meeting room had about 80 people last Wednesday, most of whom were there to support an increase in the township bus service. Pictured here, with their "Make Transportation great again" t-shirts are Josephine Falzarano, left, and Mary Ann Terracino.
Tom Saitta, left, and Christopher DelCampo have to wait for the next bus back to Bald Eagle Commons. Two busloads came to the township meeting last Wednesday to speak about transportation in the township.
Josephine Falzarano wants more transportation in the township. She is not happy with the recent cut in bus service.
BY LINDA SMITH HANCHARICK
WEST MILFORD — Not happy.
That was the message from residents of Bald Eagle Commons last week to the governing body about the township's bus service, which was reduced from five to three days a week in January due to a cut in funding.
"This bus schedule is way out of whack. If you want a tour of West Milford, take the bus!" said Josephine Falzarano. "We're not picking anybody up."
The new route has the bus going further on each loop instead of returning to Bald Eagle Commons as often, for example. The route that used to return to Bald Eagle from ShopRite at 11:05 a.m. now comes back at 11:25 a.m.
"Now we ride around, ride around. By the time you get back, your stuff is defrosted," said Falzarano. "The schedule has to be revised."
Mary Ann Terracino said she understood the township's need to cut back, but within reason.
"We know you have a budget to keep, just like me, but three days is not enough," said Terracino, also a resident of Bald Eagle.
Loss of aid caused cut backThe comments came after those of Tim Roetman, the township's director of Community Services and Recreation, who explained that the township lost its federal transit grant after census figures classified it as "too urban." So, Roetman came up with a plan to run the program on just under $37,000 annually, which was the township's share of the transportation program.
Terracino said with the current Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, many days go by before the bus is available if there is a holiday, snow day or the bus driver is sick. There is only one bus driver and when he was on vacation in January, there was no bus service.
"We were paralyzed," said Falzarano.
Roetman said he is looking for a second driver; it's not an easy task because the position is not set hours.
'House arrest'Christopher DelCampo was in the audience, there to support the speakers who want more service. He and his neighbor, Tom Saitta, said the service is vital to them and many of their Bald Eagle Commons neighbors.
"Without the bus service, it's like being under house arrest," said Saitta. "We're depending on the town bus. We can't always bother everyone else for rides."
"We have no way to go to our doctors," said DelCampo. "This is an essential service. Already they don't run on weekends and holidays. You've got to make your appointments on Monday, Wednesday or Friday or you're screwed."
Roetman said adjustments will be made to the schedule, noting the new schedule had only been in effect for one month. Some neighborhoods have been taking advantage of the service and others haven't.
"It's premature to call it a day on areas where there is less ridership," said Roetman "I think we should wait six to eight weeks."
For example, Awosting is an area not using the service. Bald Eagle Commons used to be serviced seven times each day. Now it's down to five times, three days a week. They could use another stop, said residents.
And even if it's not about essential runs to ShopRite or a doctor, the bus is important, said Terracino.
"There is a big need," she said. "You might think having your hair done, what's the big deal. But that might be the only time they get out in a day."
Where is the funding coming from?Councilman Tim Wagner called for emergency funding to reinstate the additional bus runs.
"This is an emergency," said Wagner, as he suggested emergency funding. "Seniors to me are the most important thing in this township."
Administrator Antoinette Battaglia said she would have to look at the numbers before giving an answer on the funding.
In the meantime, Roetman is going to collect the data from the runs before making adjustments to the schedule. Mayor Bettina Bieri suggested having a call-in for stops that aren't popular so people can get the bus to pick them up without having to make that run each time. She also suggested that residents call their elected officials or write letters in order to get grant funds from the county or state.
Terracino told the council to remember the seniors when they're putting together their budget this year.
"Budget time is coming," she said. "We want to keep the fields nice, but you've got to think of us too."
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