An updated scheme for what is being called ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ has been put forward for Bergen County, NJ. The plan, developed by engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff in association with NJ Transit and local agencies, envisages five routes in the area of Hackensack/Rutherford/NJ-Route 17 (see map above).Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) means a service running in its own dedicated busway. By separating the bus route from regular car traffic, the level of service for transit passengers is greatly improved, making the bus a form of ‘surface subway’. BRT also usually incorporates some combination of upgraded passenger waiting areas, off-vehicle fare collection, and signal priority.
In an example of ‘BRT creep‘, the Bergen County study sets a much lower bar in its definition of BRT. In Bergen County, BRT is defined as a service that brings improved travel time, reliability, attractiveness and technology. This definition notably does not include a dedicated busway, which is the single most important feature of BRT. Instead, any potential ‘BRT’ system in Bergen County is more likely to be an ‘enhanced bus‘. On the other hand, an enhanced bus service would still be well worthwhile in a region that is clogged with traffic from tens of thousands of daily single-passenger-vehicle car trips.
The bigger issue is that there appears to be no money to implement enhanced bus service in Bergen County. This study is just the latest to take on the task of planning improved transit in the county. None of the previous plans have gone anywhere, and it’s not clear what chances this new plan has. NJ Transit is currently redirecting capital funds to cover operational expenditures, and its budget took another hit in Governor Christie’s latest budget.
Watching what happens with the Bergen County plan will be interesting, because the Princeton area has also been the subject of a BRT planning exercise. The plan appears to be frozen owing to a lack of funds and bad PR stirred up by groups opposed to replacing the Princeton Branch ‘Dinky’ train service with an alternative on rubber tires. Traffic is currently anticipated to get much, much worse in the Princeton area.