Deputy Director Susan Soloway commented Feb. 4 on oversight of the LINK bus system with explorations made by the Transportation Task Force, as its research resulted in the recent selection of Easton Coach Company as the county’s new bus vendor, replacing First Transit Inc.
Jane Kochenash, of Easton Coach Company, presented to the Transportation Advisory Committee at its Jan. 8 meeting.
“During my first year on the board, I found that there are many varied areas where county government serves and meets the needs of our public, and one area where I had an opportunity to dig in more deeply during the past year was the operation of the LINK bus system,” she said. “Through my work as part of the Transportation Task Force, organized by former freeholder Director Suzanne Lagay, I learned that the LINK system serves senior population, the disabled and people who don’t readily have transportation for conducting their daily lives for getting to work, going to medical appointments or even for shopping.”
Soloway, a Franklin Township resident, noted that in 2018, the LINK system provided over 137,800 passenger trips. Its costs are funded by both state and federal grant funds as well as Hunterdon County tax dollars.
For Soloway a chief goal for 2020 is increasing grant funding to the LINK system in order to lower the county’s share. She said that the county looks towards new vendor Easton Coach “to provide improved service to our residents in need.”
She later explained that New Jersey Transit does not provide intra-county bus service in Hunterdon County.
According to business administrator Kevin P. Davis, the new $2,407,100 contract (total annual cost of LINK system operation) was awarded to Easton Coach in 2019 through the competitive contracting process, and went into effect Jan. 1. About 60 percent of the contract is funded from outside sources.
Davis noted that the $2.407 million is comprised of $1.2 million in state and federal grants, $250,000 in payments by various users and riders and a Hunterdon County share of $950,000 (40 percent). He added that grant funds fluctuate over the years, “so the county’s share tracks that movement.”
“Recently the freeholders also authorized the submission of a grant application to New Jersey Transit for $300,000 in additional funding for the cost of providing LINK service to senior citizens and the disabled,” Davis said. “That application is under consideration. State and federal grants are the main source of outside funding, while NJ Transit provides funding and some buses.”
Under the previous contract, Hunterdon County provided bus maintenance services, but under the new contract, Easton Coach will provide those services.
“Because of providing those services, the contract is higher than the previous one, however there will be some savings in county garage costs,” Davis said. “Long-term savings are also anticipated.”
Soloway said savings for the county garage with mechanical services for buses taken on by Easton Coach Company, “relieves the county garage of that overwhelming assignment.”
The LINK bus provides transportation to such hubs as the Flemington LINK Transfer Center (jury parking at Park Avenue and Capner Street); ShopRite and Wal-Mart locations in Raritan Township and Clinton Township; Hunterdon Medical Center, Kohl’s store, and the County Route 31 Complex (6 Gauntt Place) in Raritan Township; Milford Market; and numerous destinations in Whitehouse Station and within Lambertville City, Frenchtown Commons and northern stretches of the county in High Bridge Borough and Glen Gardner. The Route 23 LINK Out-of-County Shuffle takes riders from Flemington Borough to Raritan Valley Community College, Bridgewater Commons Mall and the Somerville NJ Transit station (Raritan Valley Line).
Residents do have one alternative bus in-county with Trans-Bridge Bus Lines, Inc. Its Doylestown, Pennsylvania to New York Line includes bus stops in three Hunterdon locations –Lambertville at the Exxon Station on Bridge Street, in Frenchtown at Front Street at Bridge Street across from the Frenchtown Inn and in Flemington at Liberty Village Premium Outlets’ Commuter Lot, Route 12.
The buses continue to international airports at Newark and JFK Airport in Queens, with a stop at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
The other Trans-Bridge Line only follows along I-78 in either direction until New York City. From Hunterdon County, it leaves from Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Union Township and the Clinton Park and Ride on Route 31 off I-78, with stops at Newark and JFK airports and Port Authority transit hubs, as well as west of Hunterdon County to Phillipsburg and Pennsylvania cities Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown.
Soloway spoke about establishing a new system for record-keeping of LINK bus ridership.
“We anticipate the accumulation of data will help Hunterdon County determine the most cost-effective methods for operations,” she said. “For many residents, the LINK system is a transportation lifeline. While the county meets that obligation, we need to ensure that it’s accomplished as effectively as possible."
Hunterdon Freeholder Matthew Holt is the county representative and trustee for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the federally-authorized Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for 6.7 million people in the 13-county northern New Jersey region.
As of 2020, NJTPA has not provided the county with grant funds specifically for the LINK system. The seven goals of the NJTPA include providing affordable, accessible and dynamic transportation systems responsive to all current and future travelers' retaining and increasing economic activity and competitiveness; enhancing system coordination, efficiency, overall safety; and connectivity for people and goods across all modes of travel; and maintaining a safe, secure and reliable transportation system in a state of good repair.
For more information, visit the bus system’s website at http://ridethelink.com.