Thursday, June 6, 2024

Long Distance Jitneys to Pennsylvania

It's another guest post from long time reader George K!

Jitneys in the NY/NJ area are known for serving areas paralleling local bus routes. However, there are only a few limited examples (such as the Chinatown jitneys) that operate with no anchor.

What I found is that the NY-Pennsylvania market has a sizable amount of long-distance buses that operate on a semi-jitney model with no official anchor. They do have approximate departure times, and their schedules are set up to minimize the amount of deadheading (so trips usually leave from the outer end in Pennsylvania starting early in the morning until the early evening, and then leave from the NY terminal 3-4 hours later...there's usually no peak-only trips, since that requires purchasing a whole extra bus and not fully utilizing it throughout the day). Headway vary from every 1-3 hours, with most companies choosing a bihourly headway.

On the outer end of the route, the jitneys typically offer door-to-door service. For example, the jitneys out to the Poconos stop at predetermined locations off I-80 (e.g. gas stations or restaurants) ...all of them have a Paterson stop (taking advantage of the fact that I-80 runs through the city), and most have one or more stops in Stroudsburg. On the outer end, the companies offer door-to-door service to either Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, or Hazleton (Interesting enough, no single company served all three cities). They also included the immediate suburbs of those cities in their door-to-door service area. The benefit of course is comfort and convenience for the passenger in not having to worry about taking a connecting bus to reach the main intercity station in the Downtown neighborhood of these respective cities, but it comes at the expense of reliability to a certain extent, since the distribution of riders who want a particular trip might not necessarily line up with the quickest route to the highway.

For the routes to Lehigh Valley and Reading, they all have a stop at Newark Airport, which makes sense given its proximity to I-78. Most also have a stop in Union City. Surprisingly enough, none of the Reading companies stop in Allentown, despite its proximity to I-78. (The closest thing to a direct connection between those two cities is OurBus, which runs once a day and only stops at the Wescosville Park & Ride).

Interestingly enough, one of those companies (Caribe Tour Express Transportation) also operates from Reading to Philadelphia, with 4 round-trips per day. (Those trips start earlier and end later than the Amtrak Thruway Express service which is contracted out to Krapf Coaches). It would be a mutual benefit to both Amtrak and Caribe Express if those trips were able to be thru-ticketed with Amtrak trains, hopefully leading to a virtuous cycle of service being expanded on the corridor. (For the door-to-door service in Reading, they might want to consider taking the most direct route to/from the BARTA Transportation Center, and then performing the door-to-door service for any remaining passengers.)

To elaborate on the concept that these jitneys operate with no anchor, the Poconos jitneys serve Washington Heights and Paterson, which are far enough from Midtown Manhattan (where most of the intercity buses operate) that in the event of an issue with their preferred jitney, most people would likely look around for another jitney company rather than backtrack all the way to Midtown for an intercity bus. For Scranton, Stroudsburg, and Wilkes-Barre, the individual jitney companies roughly match the frequency of the Martz Trailways buses, and there's multiple jitney companies, so the total number of vehicles moving towards your destination is much greater in Washington Heights or Paterson compared to Midtown Manhattan. For Hazleton in particular, there's one single round-trip to NYC on Fullington Trailways, and it's basically a reverse-peak trip, so that's serving a completely different market than the jitney companies. It is the same situation for reading, with its one single round-trip to/from NYC on OurBus/Klein Transportation (which also doesn't stop in Union City like the jitneys do).

TransBridge and the Lehigh Valley jitneys are arguably the closest example of an anchor/jitney cascade relationship (simply because TransBridge and the jitneys share a stop at Newark Airport...though the frequency to any given point in Lehigh Valley isn't much better than any individual jitney company). But again, TransBridge doesn't serve Union City, and doesn't serve Upper Manhattan, Fort Lee, Paterson, or Irvington, so it is still for all intents and purposes an independent market.

This service opens up a significant amount of opportunities for both commuters and leisure travelers. The flat-rate pricing makes it appealing for budget-conscious travelers (with the risk that the jitney might be sold-out at the last minute, though that is of course a concern even for variable-rate pricing models). Some of the companies add a few extra trips at times when it is expected to be busy (holiday weekends, or weekends in general).

Better-publicizing these services can tap into the market of people who are looking for leisure destinations that don't necessarily require a car rental. For example, a hiker can take a jitney to Stroudsburg, take the Monroe County Transit Authority River Runner up the Delaware River and go for a hike. (Unfortunately, the hours of the River Runner are limited, and it only runs on Saturdays, though I believe it runs on Sundays if it's a 3-day weekend, since it's designed for people who want to canoe down the Delaware River and camp overnight ...they leave their car at Kittatiny Vistor's Center or Delaware River Water Gap Park & Ride, put the canoe on the trailer at the back of the bus, take the bus up north, and then canoe down the river). There's definitely room for improvement on the shuttle (an extension from Milford Beach to Port Jervis to connect with Metro-North would be nice, as well as having the midday trips run the extra mile to the Martz Bus Terminal instead of just the park-and-ride, as well as service that runs past 3:05pm from Milford Beach), but of course that would require additional resources. (Right now, they use 3 buses for the operation. Those expansions would likely require them to add a fourth bus...which they should probably do anyway, since the bus route is actually fairly popular with park visitors, and loading and unloading the canoes often causes buses to run behind schedule ...last year, Raymondskill Falls was restricted to shuttle passengers only). With all that in mind, I think it would definitely be a wise investment.

When gauging demand for intercity service, Amtrak would definitely be wise to look not just at traffic patterns and ridership on established intercity companies (e.g. Greyhound, FlixBus, Martz Trailways, etc), but also ridership on these smaller services. If Stroudsburg - Upper Manhattan is able to sustain 8 small companies who depend on social media and word-of-mouth for advertising, then it seems reasonable that the Amtrak service proposed up to Scranton should be considered for a better frequency than 3 round-trips per day. (Granted, it's possible NJ Transit might decide to supplement it with a few of their own trips in an arrangement similar to the Hartford Line, but in that case, they should be paying attention to this demand as well). The markets don't necessarily overlap 100% (I'm sure the Paterson riders and even a lot of the Upper Manhattan riders will likely stick with the jitneys even if Amtrak service is available), but I suspect that the latent demand is much higher than what's being projected.

No comments: