Cumberland County officials and residents have long complained that a lack of public transportation makes it difficult to travel through the county, even for a simple supermarket trip.
Now, a draft summary of a new county transportation plan presents an even bigger problem — few public transportation options between the county and jobs, health-care facilities, shopping centers and other destinations in South Jersey and the Philadelphia region.
“The county’s economy and its social potential are hampered by the county’s relative inaccessibility,” the summary reads. “This is especially ironic, since Cumberland lies in the midst of the great Northeast megalopolis.”
Making the situation worse, a section of the report states, is that “passenger rail is unlikely to return to the county in the near future.”
That finding apparently dashes hopes that a planned extension of the Delaware River Port Authority’s PATCO High-Speed Line will make it to Cumberland County anytime soon, if at all. The authority’s plan is to extend the line to Glassboro in Gloucester County, and then eventually to Millville. Economics are delaying the project, which is estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
“We’re somewhat of a dead end, regionally,” Cumberland County Planning Director Robert Brewer said.
That is not good news for people such as Victor Vargas, a 53-year-old unemployed carpenter from Bridgeton who said he takes public transportation to places such as Philadelphia and Atlantic City in his search for a job.
“Getting to Philly and getting home, it takes all day,” Vargas said as he waited for a bus at the NJ Transit bus station in Vineland. “Even if I got a job there, it would be tough to take a bus there and back every day.”
Vargas said his options are limited.
“I’ve got no car,” he said. “What else do I do?”
Coretta Hinton, 40, of Vineland, also has no car and, with her 18-year-old son, Kito, depends on NJ Transit buses for transportation.
“Transportation is limited, and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Hinton as she waited for a bus at the Vineland station.
With choices limited, Hinton, who said she has not worked in years because of a disability, often uses expensive taxi services to get to some destinations.
Aware of the problems, officials recommend in the transportation report that the county have a transportation coordinator. That person would not only bring order to a number of disparate transportation systems, but also lobby regionally for better access to and from Cumberland County.
Cumberland County Freeholder Chairman Carl Kirstein said the county is also working with the South Jersey Transportation Authority to possibly create a shuttle service that would run between the county and Atlantic City. That service would allow Cumberland residents to more easily get to their workplaces in Atlantic City, he said.
Kirstein said the county is waiting for information from labor unions in Atlantic City to determine whether there would be enough riders to support the shuttle service. The information will also help identify the best places to pick up and drop off riders in the county, he said.
Cumberland County officials say transportation is key to helping right the county’s woeful economy. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the county had an almost 14 percent unemployment rate in August, the last month for which statistics were available. Cumberland had the highest unemployment rate in the state for that month, the statistics show.
Problems with providing Cumberland County with adequate access to the region are evident by looking at a transportation map of South Jersey.
Route 55 is the only four-lane highway that runs through Cumberland County, and even then on a limited basis. Route 55 turns into two-lane Route 47, also known as Delsea Drive, at its eastern terminus in Port Elizabeth, Maurice River Township. None of the other major highways — such as the Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey Turnpike and Route 395 — that run through South Jersey are near Cumberland County.
Dependency on bus service is crucial for many residents in the rural end of the economically depressed county. NJ Transit officials contend they are meeting the need.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said the three main bus routes to Philadelphia and Atlantic City carry about 6,000 riders daily.
“Based on the data that we collect, and we continue to monitor commuting patterns, we serve the area well for the data that we’re seeing,” she said. “We bring (customers) to where we see the demand, where the jobs are.”
NJ Transit would have to determine if there is enough population and ridership demand before starting any new bus routes, Snyder said. Cumberland County has a low population density, she said.
Brewer said county officials will continue to lobby for more transportation options for residents who face some rather long bus rides.
“We’re, like, an hour and 15 minutes away from anywhere,” he said. “That’s a heck of a commute.”
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