The Federal Transit Administration has issued a cease-and-desist order to the Atlantic City Jitney Association, ordering the green and white shuttles to halt all charter services and any associated advertising.
The decision issued Monday by Dorval Carter, chief counsel to the administration, follows a complaint made last year by Five Mile Beach Electric Railway Co., alleging the jitneys are violating terms of a federal grant by providing charter services, including private transportation to weddings, parties and sporting events.
“Based upon the FTA’s investigation of Five Mile’s complaint, the FTA concludes that all ACJA-covered parties, through their activities and advertising, are in violation of the FTA’s charter-service regulations when they use federally funded vehicles for charter service,” the order states.
But don’t expect the familiar omnibuses to disappear any time soon.
Jitney Association President Tom Woodruff said that despite the decision, the jitneys will operate as usual and the association will appeal the order.
“It really doesn’t mean anything,” Woodruff said Wednesday. “This is coming from the owner of Five Mile, who thinks the whole Jitney Association was purchased through a grant, and he’s wrong. The regulations might apply to the grant buses. It certainly doesn’t apply to the 90 buses we purchased.”
The order states that two grants issued through the New Jersey Transit Corp. in 2009 and 2011 allowed the Jitney Association to purchase jitneys. By accepting the money, the association agreed to comply with federal regulations restricting how the jitneys have operated for decades. The regulations forbid competition against charter services by recipients of federal financial assistance, the order states.
Woodruff, however, argues that the FTA regulations apply only to the 100 vehicles purchased with the grant money. An additional 90 shuttles in the fleet were privately purchased and shouldn’t be subject to the regulation, said Woodruff, who said that only about 10 vehicles are used for charter trips.
Five Mile owner Richard Adelizzi, whose company offers public transportation in Cape May County shore towns, said he filed the complaint because the jitneys were hurting his business and he believes they’re operating outside their jurisdiction. The Five Mile Beach Electric Railway dates to the early 1900s and is a division of the Great American Trolley Co.
“The Jitney Association is an Atlantic City institution. Where they’re getting into trouble is they’re beginning to operate outside of their approved area,” Adelizzi said. “It’s been hurting ourselves and other carriers in the area.”
The jitneys offer several regular routes in Atlantic City. They also provide transportation to and from Atlantic City International Airport. They have a permit to do so from the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
Just what the FTA’s order could mean for the service at the airport wasn’t immediately clear. The order qualifies charter service as “demand response service” to individuals rather than a regularly scheduled route. Jitneys wait at the airport for all scheduled flights, and reservations are not required. However, service from Atlantic City to the airport must be prearranged and is provided based on demand.
FTA representatives did not return calls for clarification on the order late Wednesday.
SJTA spokesman Kevin Rehmann said Wednesday that he was unaware of the cease-and-desist order and said jitneys were still in service at the airport as of Wednesday. He said he could not comment further until speaking with SJTA attorneys.
The order notes that federal law supercedes any conflicting state or local laws. Even so, “there is nothing in Atlantic City code ... which authorizes ACJA and its owner/operators to engage in charter service. There is only an emergency provision for transportation crises.”
The jitneys’ operations have been questioned previously. Last year, Egg Harbor Township officials claimed the jitneys were operating without proper township licenses, but the issue was later dropped.
The issue of chartered jitneys also came up at the Atlantic City Council meeting Wednesday night, as council considered an ordinance that would allow drivers to operate jitneys as private shuttles without individual city approval.
Currently the jitneys can act as private shuttles, but the city has to approve the activity. Woodruff said that process is cumbersome and can be a problem with last-minute requests for shuttles.
City attorney Irv Jacoby said the change could contradict state law, which requires city approval for shuttles of 13 people or more. Jacoby said council members must discuss the matter further before they vote to adopt it at their next meeting.
Only Councilman Rizwan Malik voted against the ordinance, but others said it would need further discussion.
Cab and limo operators at Wednesday’s meeting said the ability for jitneys to offer cheaper fares from the airport and run shuttles with less regulation hurts the business of nonjitney drivers. But the jitney drivers said their competitors have advantages because they can offer door-to-door service.
Staff Writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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