State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-14) recently introduced legislation to improve the quality of paratransit.
The legislation would enable client-based service agencies to adopt best practices pioneered by Mercer ARC.
“New Jersey’s paratransit services for physically and developmentally disabled people who cannot use regular bus and rail service is a crazy quilt of overlapping and too-often inefficient services that fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable,” said Sen. Sweeney.
The reform legislation was designed to address complaints filed at the Senate Select Committee on NJ Transit (NJT). Physically and developmentally disabled riders, and their advocates deatiled to the committee obstacles such as three-hour circuitous trips, scheduling difficulties, and overlapping service due to inefficient coordination.
The legislation comes after Sweeney and Weinberg requested NJT’s Board of Directors in May limit new contracts for Access Link services to three years in anticipation of the reform legislation and its implementation.
As a result, the board awarded Easton Coach Company just a three-year contract in Atlantic-based Region 3 and deferred action on a proposed contract to First Transit in Bergen-based Region 6 pending resolution of a series of labor complaints against the company.
Improving on Access Link
The legislation is designed to address inefficiencies and gaps in the way services were provided for both physically and developmentally disabled riders through a collaboration between the state and the federal government.
“Our legislation will bring together NJ Transit, the Department of Human Services, the county transportation departments and service providers to develop a coordinated, responsive and cost-effective paratransit network,” said Weinberg.
NJ Transit provides the paratransit van service through the federal Access Link program alongside its current bus, rail, and light rail routes. Each of the New Jersey’s 21 counties is responsible for coordinating paratransit services, but only through their borders.
The Mercer ARC Model
The Mercer ARC model was developed in partnership with Princeton University with funding from NJT. The pilot was able to cut average travel time from 90 minutes to 30 minutes, and cut per-passenger costs by 50%.
Under the bill, a pilot program would be established to expand capacity among local social service agencies serving the developmentally disabled. It would allow them to adopt the Mercer ARC model.
“Paratransit providers often serve our most vulnerable, including seniors and people with disabilities who would otherwise have difficulty using public transportation,” said Benson. “Our goal with this legislation is to help these vital programs reach more people by expanding and reforming the way we approach paratransit in New Jersey. With an emphasis on safety, efficiency and accessibility, this bill will improve coordination between providers, create statewide best practices and help NJ Transit realize cost savings.”