March 16, 2018

Potential commuter bus route discussed for Vernon

Public transportation, or possibly the lack thereof, has been a point of contention for residents of the Sussex County area.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., said Thursday that increasing accessibility and transportation options for local commuters needs to be more of a priority.

“The lack of affordable transportation options in Warren and Sussex County has gone unaddressed for far too long,” Gottheimer said in a press release.

After speaking with constituents, businesses and local elected officials, Gottheimer said he has taken the first steps toward entering into a potential partnership with Coach USA, a national company that oversees more than 30 transportation providers across the country.

Should the partnership move forward, Gottheimer said, bus routes with express service into New York City could begin to operate out of Vernon within the foreseeable future.

To identify local areas with the greatest need for increased transportation, Coach USA on Thursday launched an online survey intended to determine the number of local riders who would be interested in using the bus service on a daily basis.

“This is a great first step and I hope that Coach’s survey finds what I’ve been hearing: We need more transportation options for our residents,” Gottheimer said in the release.

Vernon, Gottheimer said by way of example, has the fifth-longest average commuting time of any municipality in the state.

“There are a lot of common goals in this district,” Gottheimer said during an interview with the New Jersey Herald. “Whether you’re talking about trying to increase property values, attract investors or promote business development, it all starts with transportation and infrastructure.”

For Coach USA to look further into a partnership with Vernon, Gottheimer said, the area would need to prove a sustainable ridership of 150 people per day.

“That’s why it is so important for anyone who thinks they might be interested in this service to take a minute and fill out the survey,” he said. “We need to show them that we’re serious.”

Vernon Mayor Harry Shortway, who has worked alongside Gottheimer to advance the project, said the bus line would “help to lay the foundation for things to come.”

“We have finally been able to bring the developers out of the woodwork,” Shortway said. “This is an attractive area with a lot to offer — we’ve got relatively low property taxes, beautiful scenery, a good school system and a wonderful community. What we don’t have is transportation.”

The bus route, if approved by Coach USA, would not only stand to benefit Vernon residents, Gottheimer said.

“Even though the new stop would be located in Vernon, it would also serve commuters from Hamburg, Wantage, Sussex, Franklin and Hardyston,” he said. “This would result in higher paying jobs, shorter commutes and a better quality of life for everyone in the area.”

Shortway said that Vernon would need to “hammer out the details” in terms of where a park-and-ride would be located and how it would be maintained.

“That’s all down the road somewhat,” Shortway said. “For now, we just need to prove to Coach that there is an interest and a need for their services in this community.”