VERNON — “It’s been a great group of people, a good mix” said Victor LaSalle, as he chatted about the fledgling commuter bus service between Vernon and Manhattan.
While LaSalle was not going to take the bus to work Friday, he showed up in the dawn light to talk to fellow commuters and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., who stopped by to have coffee and seek feedback on the service, which began Sept. 17 for a two-month trial period.
LaSalle, from Hardyston, was standing with Vanessa Taylor, of Vernon; Eric McDonald, of Hardyston; and Rob Rodriguez, also of Vernon.
Friday was the first day Taylor was to take the bus, calling the route and timing “perfect,” since it was to arrive at her stop in Manhattan at 8:20 a.m. The express service makes three other stops in the city along 42nd Street, one of them in the financial district where LaSalle works.
So far the only complaint, he laughingly said, “is when we get stopped for three hours in the tunnel. There’s no bathroom on this bus.”
However, that will be solved shortly when a newer, bathroom-equipped coach is put on the route.
“But they have wi-fi,” said Rodriguez, who said it allows him to get a jump on the day.
“I got in the office one day and a couple of people were saying they got there early. I told them I began work at 7. I had my computer.”
The bus leaves the Vernon Valley Plaza (Acme supermarket), on Route 515 near the intersection with Route 94, at 6:45 a.m. weekdays. So far, there have been fewer than 10 riders, but Taylor said she hopes that will change on Oct. 1.
Logistically, most bus commuters — who still drive into Morris County to pick up a New Jersey Transit bus — purchase monthly passes.
“I know some people are waiting for their pass to expire, then will try this route,” she said.
The Vernon-Manhattan route is operated by Coach USA, a private company that agreed with Gottheimer’s efforts for the 60-day trial run.
Also involved in getting the route started was Vernon Mayor Harry Shortway, who also was present at Friday’s event.
He said he’s looking at ways to get the word out using social media to entice people to use the service and get ridership up to where Coach USA will make the route permanent, with a possible second bus.
The current route returns from Manhattan with a 5:15 p.m. first pickup at 42nd Street and First Avenue, followed by stops, at five-minute intervals, along 42nd Street at Third, Fifth and Seventh avenues.
Arrival times each morning begin at 8:10 a.m., traveling from Seventh Avenue to First Avenue along 42nd Street.
The current fare is offered through a package of 10 one-way trips for $150. Individual one-way tickets are available at $18 per trip.
Information is available and tickets can be purchased at www.commuterwiz.com.
Lakeland Bus also offers regular service to New York City, but is most convenient for those in the southern half of the county. Two routes leave Newton between 5 and 6 a.m., make several stops and arrive in the city between 6:45 and 7:15 a.m.
Gottheimer and Shortway had talked about the commuter service at one of their first meetings following the congressman’s election two years ago.
In March, Gottheimer and Coach USA announced a survey, the results of which led to the trial route.
Java with Josh
After the bus left, Gottheimer moved just up the street to The Daily Bean for his 28th in a series of “Java with Josh” meetings with constituents.
“It changes a lot,” he said when asked about the chief issues brought to him during the sessions. “It could be health insurance, how to get the premiums down; getting taxes down, especially SALT.”
That is the acronym for state and local taxes, which had always been deductible on federal income taxes.
Now, as a result of the latest tax cut bill passed in Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the deduction is capped at $10,000.
“The average (property) tax in Sussex is $14,000,” Gottheimer said. “That’s a big deduction to lose.”
He said other topics are infrastructure, from bus transportation to “bad roads.”
Among other local issues are what he calls the “Waste Mountain,” a large deposit of trucked-in matter in Vernon; the Lackawanna Cutoff, a long-delayed NJ Transit project to bring commuter rail service to southern Sussex County; and the “rock fence,” a state project to build a 50-60-foot structure, now estimated to cost more than $62 million, along Interstate 80, which has raised strong concerns among local officials in northern Warren County.
“Most of what we deal with is not partisan,” Gottheimer added. “It’s a lot of local people who need help.”
Shortway and Vernon Council President Jean Murphy also attended the coffee session and said they are encouraged by the congressman’s offering his hand to municipalities, even if the issue doesn’t involve the federal government.
“He has lent his name, his office to help,” Shortway said.
The two noted that the township offered, and Gottheimer accepted, space in the Municipal Building. It is staffed by someone from his office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays to meet with citizens.