Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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Community Shuttle System Plans Roll Along as Municipalities Support Improved Transit

Dilshanie Perera

All members of Borough Council and Township Committee granted their unanimous support for an initiative to coordinate public transportation throughout Princeton at a joint meeting between the two municipalities last week.

The Community Transportation Coordination Initiative is spearheaded by a number of key figures from various institutions, including Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner, Princeton University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget, University Director of Transportation and Parking Kim Jackson, and Chair of the Borough’s Traffic and Transportation Committee Anton Lahnston. A joint advisory committee of municipal elected officials and staff also contributed to the project.

With multiple goals, the initiative endeavors to “find ways we can improve connections between all these different shuttle services,” said Mr. Goerner, referring to the Borough’s Free B jitney shuttle, the Princeton University’s Tiger Transit system, and New Jersey Transit bus routes, among others. “We want increased and timely services to underserved population clusters throughout the community,” he added.

Initial meetings gave rise to an evaluation by Princeton University hiring consulting firm Gannett Fleming in order to determine the best route of such a shuttle. They analyzed “transit generators,” or places where there is a dearth in transportation and a corresponding need, as well as locations where people want to go.

The service is meant to serve a population that is expressly not composed of commuters. The daytime service would likely be less for commuters than for individuals who do not currently have the ability to access most of town.

After analyzing the results of much survey data gathered from Princeton residents, the group recommended that the community shuttle run on weekdays during the day for six hours per day, and focus on the transit generators, Mr. Goerner said, adding that expanding the route is a possibility after a review of the pilot program.

The proposed circuit would begin at Elm Court, with stops including the Princeton Senior Resource Center, Spruce Circle, the public library, the Princeton Shopping Center, and Princeton Community Village.

The total time for a single route completion is estimated at 45 minutes. “We felt we had to start small,” Mr. Goerner acknowledged. “We went through 12 different route alternatives.”

While the community shuttle will be free and open to the public, the estimated cost to run the service is $113,000 per year. Mr. Goerner noted, “We want to implement this with as little municipal outlay as possible,” meaning that the vehicle’s operation would work through outside sources of funding, like grants from area corporations or institutions.

The plan is to start the project for a year or 18 months, with a sunset provision. If it is successful, it will continue its operation. Next steps include investigating funding options, and setting a launch goal, which will likely be in the fall of this year.

The Borough’s own free transit service for commuters, the Free B, was criticized during the meeting as members of Council wondered whether it was a worthwhile program, given the low numbers of people who are actually utilizing it. Council President Andrew Koontz expressed concern that the community shuttle might show similar ridership numbers.

While Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi contended that the value of the jitney vehicle has yet to be fully realized, Mr. Goerner noted that the route analysis was done “from the bottom up, not the top down, which should enable us to have a broad range of potential riders.”

When township Committee member Sue Nemeth asked why Redding Circle was not included as one of the route destinations, Mr. Goerner responded that the route time would increase dramatically. “It’s a matter of finding a balance” he said, adding that determining ways to connect the site into the larger transit scheme is certainly part of the plan.

Borough Council member Jenny Crumiller and Township Committee member Liz Lempert both advocated for running the shuttle on weekends, given the success of the Saturday holiday shuttle that ran from the end of November until the end of December last year, connecting the downtown with the Shopping Center.

Ms. Lempert suggested that a weekend shuttle would serve another population of residents, namely, middle school and high school students. “It would be a popular way for asserting independence.”

“What is particularly elegant about the proposal is that it helps downtown and Shopping Center merchants,” Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes said. “It would be a benefit to our ‘shop local’ strategy,” he added, noting that funding could potentially come from a Special Improvement District.

Executive Director of Princeton Community Housing Sandra Persichetti remarked that “the committee has not developed this route in a vacuum. Over 160 residents at Elm Court and Harriet Bryan House were surveyed, with a number of people saying, ‘if I had a reliable and consistent source of transportation, I’d sell my car.’”

“This would be a gift for us,” she added.

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