Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Oct. 30 designed to create a program that would adopt paratransit best practices across the Garden State. The program would instill greater coordination among service providers in the industry, while establishing regional paratransit coordinating councils.
Murphy noted the program, backed by two key North Jersey lawmakers State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) would provide seniors and those will disabilities a sense of safety, ease, reliability, and affordability when using NJ TRANSIT services.
“We were gratified that NJ Transit from the start showed strong support for reforms that will deliver paratransit services more efficiently for our most vulnerable riders,” stated Weinberg. “This law will bring together NJ Transit, the county transportation departments and service providers to develop a coordinated, responsive and cost-effective paratransit network.”
Forcing Upgrades at NJ TRANSIT
Under the bill, NJ TRANSIT will be required that all paratransit services it manages, administers, or provides through its operating budget comply with routing, scheduling, and dispatch software that is compatible with other paratransit providers.
“Seniors, and those living with disabilities deserve transportation services that accommodate their needs, and this program will be committed to doing exactly that,” Murphy said.
The bill requires the travel authority to identify regular and recurring trips under the Access Link program and to develop a system where other paratransit operators can complete those trips if they meet applicable standards.
A three-phase, best practices training pilot would also be developed for paratransit providers. .
Protecting Seniors and the Disabled
Officials touting the program championed seniors and the disabled, who would be the ones to benefit from the program. Primary sponsors for the bill included State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
“This will help update and improve New Jersey’s paratransit services for physically and developmentally disabled people who cannot use regular bus and rail services,” said Sweeney. “We need to bring ‘best practices’ to our paratransit network to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. These reforms are especially important in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which will put new demands on all mass transit services.”
Vainieri Huttle, along with Assembly co-sponsors Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex) and Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) noted “a person who is elderly or disabled shouldn’t receive lower quality service than others who use public transportation. There needs to be equity in our transit system for all riders.”
“We’ve heard from many paratransit riders and providers that the current fragmented system can work better for all involved, including improving wait times, communication, and service quality,” the Assemblymemebrs said in a press statement. “This new law will improve the reliability of paratransit service by increasing coordination between state paratransit providers, county agencies, and the developmental disability community to improve efficiency, as well as reducing costs and creating best practices for providers to follow. With these investments, our goal is to ensure riders have a safer and smoother trip.”