August 12, 2015

Taxi Service to Replace Bus to Hospital

Page 1 Hospital

Princeton residents who relied on NJ Transit’s 655 bus for travel to and from Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS) in Plainsboro will have another resource when the NJ Transit service ceases operations on September 1. Starting August 24, an on-demand taxi service will be available, for free, to patients who live within a half-mile of the former hospital on Witherspoon Street and have no other means of getting to the complex.

That radius stretches from the old hospital on Witherspoon Street to Nassau Street, Route 206, Princeton High School, and Valley Road. Hospital administration worked with Princeton’s Health and Human Services staff to come up with the plan after NJ Transit announced plans to halt the 655 bus as part of system-wide cost-cutting efforts.

“Princeton HealthCare System is committed to ensuring that all patients have access to the care they need,” said Barry S. Rabner, president and CEO, in an issued statement. “During the Certificate of Need process for the new hospital, we made a commitment to provide access to patients who walked to the former hospital and had no other means of transportation. We are continuing to fulfill that commitment by establishing this on-demand taxi service.”

At a meeting of Princeton Council on Monday night, Carol Norris-Smith, the hospital’s vice-president of marketing and public affairs, said PHCS has spent about $225,000 to support the bus and other transportation for patients since the move from Witherspoon Street to Plainsboro three years ago. That included a $65,000 a year subsidy for the bus and services for those who qualify for RideProvide and Princeton Crosstown.

Once NJ Transit announced its plans to dispense with the 655 bus route, hospital and municipal staff began to look for an alternative. Under the new taxi service, patients who have an appointment at the hospital, its community health center, or the Medical Arts Pavilion can call to arrange a door-to-door round trip. Patients are asked to call 24 hours in advance and schedule a pickup time at least half an hour before their appointment time.

Bilingual staff members will take calls Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and two Saturdays each month, 9 a.m. to noon. During the week, the first pickup will be at 7:30 a.m. and the last at 6 p.m. The service will also be available the two Saturdays each month that the community health center is open.

As part of the plan to provide transportation to those without other ways to get to the hospital, Princeton University is extending its Tiger Transit service to Plainsboro by adding a stop in Palmer Square. The buses are free to everyone, not just University students and personnel.

“We’ve been able to cobble together an alternative that for some people will be better than what the bus was providing,” said Mayor Liz Lempert, before the meeting. “Just a few months ago we weren’t sure what our options would be. I’m confident we’ve reached a really good plan here. Now, we just have to get the word out.”

Following Ms. Norris-Smith’s presentation at the meeting, Councilwoman Heather Howard urged the hospital to consider allowing family members to accompany those going to medical appointments in the free taxis. “Take a broad view of what access to care means,” she said. “I would consider [family members] part of the care and I hope you will, too.”

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said an important part of getting the word out about the free Tiger Transit bus is signage at the stops informing the public that they are permitted to ride the University bus. “I don’t feel it’s actually going to work unless we do that,” she said.

The free taxi service is for non-emergencies only. Those who call for a reservation will be asked for their name, address, appointment time, or reason for coming, and whether they need a car seat. The operators will also confirm that the caller has no other means of transportation.

The number to call is (609) 853-6200.