By ERIN ROLL
DeCamp Bus Lines will be suspending bus service indefinitely starting this Friday, Aug. 7, as a result of lower ridership since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Montclair-based transit company announced Wednesday.
Jonathan DeCamp, the bus line’s president, said the decision to suspend service was not made lightly.
“It’s heartbreaking. Not only for our employees, but our passengers who rely on us to get in and out of the city,” he said.
The stay-at-home orders that resulted from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused DeCamp to halt service on March 28. Bus service resumed on June 8, in the hopes that ridership would return as New Jersey and New York began their respective opening processes.
Prior to the pandemic, DeCamp buses carried an average of 6,500 to 7,000 passengers a day. Now, ridership is down to an average of 400 passengers a day, according to Jonathan DeCamp.
DeCamp representatives said that the company has exhausted all of its available financial resources, including trying to stretch its Paycheck Protection Program funds from eight weeks into 17 weeks. Additionally, it said, when New Jersey received $1.4 billion in aid from the Federal Transportation Authority, that amount was given to NJ Transit, and none was given to private bus carriers.
It remains to be seen how long the suspension will last, DeCamp said, saying that the length of the suspension depends on when offices in New York start to reopen and commuters begin returning to those offices.
With the exception of two staffers in finances and human resources, all of the 150 to 160 staff will be furloughed, DeCamp said.
In a subsequent statement early Wednesday evening, company representatives said the company was facing a 97 percent drop in ridership at the time it originally suspended service in March.
“Without access to the federal CARES Act funding or the passage of the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act (CERTS), we had no choice except to suspend service again to conserve resources until passenger volumes return to a sustainable level,” spokespeople said on Aug. 5.
NJ Transit, DeCamp, and other transit agencies in the area saw steep drop-offs in ridership starting in March, as many commuters began working from home. NJ Transit reported that its ridership dropped by as much as 90 percent due to COVID-19.
DeCamp was founded in 1870 as a stagecoach company serving northern New Jersey and New York. Many Montclair residents use the #33 and #66 DeCamp buses to commute into New York.
DeCamp riders who have already purchased tickets are advised to hold on to them, DeCamp said. When service resumes, the expiration date on those tickets will be extended.
“We just say thank you to our public, they’ve been our loyal customers,” DeCamp said.
Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday to ask him to seek state and transportation local aid for DeCamp and other private bus carriers. “The residents of Montclair, Bloomfield, West Orange, and other surrounding communities in Essex County depend on the services of DeCamp. Without reliable commuter and charter transportation service companies, the quality of life for so many of our residents will be severely impacted in a negative fashion,” Gill wrote. Gill also cited estimates from the Bus Association of New Jersey that private bus carriers account for approximately 35 percent of scheduled bus service in New Jersey.
On Aug. 7, Coach USA announced that it would be cross-honoring DeCamp tickets, in an arrangement with DeCamp, from Monday, Aug. 10 to Aug. 31. “We are pleased to be in a unique situation wherein we are able to work together with DeCamp to keep Jersey strong and offer a convenient solution for the commuting public,” Scott Sprengel, the executive vice president of Coach USA, said Aug. 7.
“NJ Transit is committed to helping facilitate a smooth transition for customers and will continue to work with DeCamp as the transportation sector feels the impacts of the pandemic and then enters the recovery process, however NJ Transit does not have the resources to absorb DeCamp’s lines. These alternatives include the Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex rail lines when they resume service following this week’s storm,” NJ Transit spokesperson Nancy Snyder said. NJ Transit will also cross-honor DeCamp tickets on the following routes from Aug. 8 through Aug. 31:
- NJ TRANSIT buses Nos. 28 & 29 serve different sections of Bloomfield Avenue (DeCamp #32, 33 & 88), and No. 13 in Nutley, to feed NJ TRANSIT rail stations
- No. 191 serves Montclair
- No. 324 provides express service from the Wayne Transit Center
- Nos. 192/199 serve the Allwood Park and Ride in Clifton