Despite Princeton’s small population, there are a remarkable number of cars around, and surface parking lots are considered a near-sacred commodity in central areas that could be better used for homes or green spaces. A large part of this is because, in contrast to Princeton’s historic, walkable tradition, post-war zoning has required low-rise, low-density single-family homes. Homes are spread out, making it more of an effort for people to get to stores or workplaces by walking. Cycle trails are rudimentary throughout the town, so most people naturally enough look to a car as their primary mode of transport, if not an absolute necessity.
One response to the gridlock is Princeton’s FreeB ‘Community Shuttle’. This ‘jitney’ service, which launched in 2008, features a bus that drives around the town, offering free rides to anyone who cares to jump onboard. Last week, the FreeB service saw an expansion, featuring more of everything! More days of service, longer hours of operation, an expanded route network, even an extra bus stop at Princeton Shopping Center! There are actually two ‘FreeB’ services: the ‘Commuter’ and the ‘Neighborhood’.
1. The ‘Commuter’ FreeB runs weekdays between Princeton Shopping Center and the Dinky Station in the mornings and evenings:
2. The ‘Neighborhood’ service runs Monday – Saturday along a meandering route that connects residential neighborhoods at the north end of town, via the Witherspoon corridor, past Jugtown and along Nassau Street (best to check the map to understand the route):
Transit options are essential for helping people live a car-free and car-lite lifestyle. In a town with so much car use, any contribution towards alternative transportation is to be welcomed. Indeed, the FreeB service received unanimous support from a joint committee of members from the former Township and Borough in 2010.
There’s just one problem: Princeton residents aren’t riding the FreeB. In February, Princeton Council heard that an average of just 32 people ride the FreeB commuter service each day– that figure is the total for the morning and evening! 47 people on average use the FreeB neighborhood service per day. The cost to the municipality of providing the service is $8,710 per month. There is a question about whether the money is being spent in the best possible way. However, our road network also gets taxpayer subsidy, and supporting alternative transportation is potentially more environmentally friendly. To Princeton’s credit, we are giving the FreeB a chance to demonstrate its worth to the community by expanding the service, in partnership with Greater Mercer TMA, who are supporting the neighborhood service.
The FreeB service is not perfect, but with these latest improvements, let’s give it a chance! To some extent, FreeB’s success faces a challenge from Princeton’s largely low density residential layout, a form which is often (but not invariably!) associated with reduced success of transit solutions. However, FreeB service at Communiversity was particularly popular, showing that local people are happy to ride the little bus when it is well publicized and convenient. Let’s hope more people ride it in future, to allow a more walkable Princeton with fewer cars!
What do you think about the FreeB? Is it a good use of municipal funds? Do you ride it already, or are you more likely to ride it with expanded service? Leave us a comment below!