Codey proposes $60M private bus carrier relief program

State senator calls it temporary lifeline to industry that provides vital service and accounts for large amount of jobs

Yes, it’s a move that would save a lot of good-paying union jobs for drivers, mechanics and others, state Sen. Richard Codey said.

And, yes, it’s a move that would be providing a subsidy for an industry that may be on its downside.

But Codey’s proposed legislation to provide a $60 million relief fund for private bus carriers is more than just a bailout for companies such as DeCamp Bus Lines, which announced earlier this month that it will end its service to New York City by April 7.

Sen. Richard Codey. (New Jersey Legislature)

Codey (D-Livingston) said the legislation, which is similar to the Commuter & Transit Bus Private Carrier Pandemic Relief & Jobs Program that appropriated $75 million in last year’s budget, represents the most realistic path forward to maintain private bus line service into and out of Manhattan.

More than anything, it buys time at a time of workplace uncertainty — because, once these lines are gone, it’s highly unlikely they could ever come back.

“This is not a bailout of some mismanaged business,” Codey said. “This is a lifeline to companies that provide a critically important service, a service that provides jobs and access to New York. The carriers’ problem is easy to understand — as is the solution.”

Codey said there may be no other viable solution.

“We have looked at this, heard from stakeholders and residents in affected communities, and this is how we maintain affordable service,” he said.

“DeCamp is quite possibly the first domino to fall, and we cannot expect NJ Transit or anyone else to fill this void. While ridership is obviously down from pre-pandemic levels, we can expect some rebound, just as we expect an eventual rebound in commercial real estate.”

Codey said losing DeCamp and other private carriers would affect towns across northern New Jersey — from losing jobs and affecting home prices to limiting access to employment, health care, education and entertainment in New York.

“Our region needs these carriers,” he said. “Our region needs these jobs. And our region needs affordable access to Manhattan.”

Codey noted that DeCamp and other carriers maintained limited service during the pandemic with the support of government subsidies. The legislation creating a Paycheck Protection Program-like plan would loan carriers money to continue operations until ridership rebounds. Each carrier would be eligible to apply for funds, possibly commensurate with ridership losses. Loans potentially could be forgiven if ridership does not rebound.

DeCamp has said its average ridership into and out of Manhattan has fallen from 6,500-7,000 before the pandemic to about 1,500 recently. DeCamp is one of about a dozen private carriers that operate their own routes into and out of New York. Other carriers contract with NJ Transit to operate agency routes.

Codey’s bill, he said, would limit emergency support to private carriers who operate their own service lines.

“This isn’t complicated,” Codey said. “Other private bus carriers are watching. And others are likely on the path toward killing this service without the state stepping in to help.”

Codey praised the efforts of affected communities to expand jitney and shuttle service so residents can better access NJ Transit bus and train routes, but he said that’s a temporary solution at best.

“Let’s remember that private carriers like DeCamp picked up routes NJ Transit historically couldn’t service, usually because ridership was too scattered or spread out,” he said. “We can’t expect NJ Transit to solve this problem.”

The proposed relief fund would be administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Codey said.