PRINCETON: Plans in the works to make sure reisdents have transportation to hopsital if bus route is shut down

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Mayor Liz Lempert is working with Princeton University and University Medical Center officials on a two-pronged approach to ensure residents have access to the hospital after a NJ Transit bus to the Route 1 facility “likely” is eliminated later this year.
The proposed solutions involve the expected adding of another bus stop for a university shuttle bus that goes to the hospital weekdays and a still-to-be determined on demand transportation service that residents could use. Details still need to be worked out, the mayor announced Thursday.
The town, the university, the hospital and NJ Transit have discussed what to do for residents after the expected elimination of Transit’s 655 bus. Hailed as an innovative private-public partnership when it launched in May 2012, the bus has few riders, and is losing federal and private subsidies that helped prop it up.
As recently as last year, NJ Transit executive director Veronique Hakim said the bus provided a “vital connection.” Ridership statistics were not immediately available.
In April, NJ Transit proposed fare hikes and service cuts that include eliminating the 655. A decision by NJ Transit’s board of directors is expected July 15; the service would end in September if the board approves, a “likely” outcome, Mayor Lempert said.
One part of the strategy involves the school’s TigerTransit bus service, which has an existing route that goes to the hospital weekdays. Mayor Lempert said Thursday that the school would add a stop closer to town, likely at its Merwick Stanworth housing complex.
Kristin S. Appelget, university director of community and regional affairs, said Friday that the school is considering that option as part of its annual review of TigerTransit routes. A decision would be made over the summer and take effect in the upcoming academic year.
That particular route runs Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. between the town and the school’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab on its Forrestal campus in Plainsboro. Anyone can use the bus now, which is free, open to the public and requires no identification to board, Ms. Appelget said.
That particular bus has various stops in town, including at the Princeton train station. The school has no plans to add weekend service to that route, Ms.Appelget said.
The second piece of the strategy will be to add some type of on-demand transportation service that residents could use, be it a shuttle bus or Mayor Lempert’s preference, a taxi service.
She said details need to be worked out, but offered that she and other town officials would meet with hospital administration next week.
“We understand that the 655 bus will be discontinued in the fall due to ridership that is much lower than expected and the resulting financial shortfall for NJ Transit,” Princeton HealthCare System said in a statement. “One of the options being considered is an on-demand service. We are confident that through cooperation, thoughtful use of available resources and our shared commitment to the community, we will develop an effective solution.”
Mayor Lempert has criticized NJ Transit for its proposed service cuts and fare hikes. She again this week expressed concern that money for mass transit was being cut, especially for a bus that goes to a hospital.