Commuters to New York who live in the Redwood and Pleasantdale sections of West Orange can look forward to an easier commute this summer as the West Orange jitney service adds a new route to include these neighborhoods.
The force behind the expansion is Deena Rubin, a long-time realtor with Keller Williams’s Livingston office who has lived in West Orange for 25 years. “Being part of the community, I’ve seen West Orange grow and expand. West Orange offers something for everyone: great housing prices, wonderful schools, terrific parks and playgrounds, all in a warm and welcoming town.”
What Redwood and Pleasantdale didn’t have was the same accessibility to direct train service to New York that other sections of West Orange enjoy. That, according to Rubin and other realtors, has put these neighborhoods—home to a large Jewish community—at a disadvantage as potential residents choose other towns with better commuting options. “The bottom line is lower property values and lost revenue for the town. That doesn’t help anyone,” she said.
The jitney service began over a decade ago when NJ Transit determined it could increase ridership on its direct train service to Manhattan by providing commuters living in the nearby Gregory and St. Cloud sections of West Orange a subsidized jitney service to the South Orange train station. Eventually, West Orange Township took over the service, which it continues to provide at no cost to its riders.
Currently, the township provides free jitney service to two train stations. The Midtown-Direct train line is only minutes away, bringing riders straight to New York’s Penn Station; there is also service to Orange Station and South Orange Station.
While the lack of jitney service was “always a thorn in my side as a realtor,” said Rubin, the issue became personal when she found herself shuttling her daughter to and from the South Orange train station after the recent college graduate began a job in the city.
At an open hours meeting held in April 2015, Mayor Robert Parisi expressed his support and his hope that the jitney service expansion would occur by 2016. But budgetary issues intervened. “I let all the rabbis (in town) know that I had spoken to the mayor, who is an advocate for our community. He has only proved to be a friend of ours. The town wants to do right by us, but is always up against budgetary constraints in providing more and new services,” said Rubin.
In January 2016, Rubin invited lay leaders, rabbis, business owners and residents to a meeting at her home to discuss the shuttle service. More than 20 people attended; others dialed in. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The group divided itself into subcommittees on marketing, costs and routes. Town council member Michelle Casalino voiced her support. “We have a lot of commuters all over the township and anytime you expand a service it’s an added benefit to each neighborhood,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by town council member Jerry Guarino, who assisted Rubin in creating a proposed budget to present to the township. He noted that property values have increased in neighborhoods with jitney service because it makes the town more desirable for potential buyers and current residents.
“This mobility is a selling point for potential buyers and current residents,” said Guarino. “It alleviates the cost of daily and monthly parking passes at train stations (such as South Orange), which have very limited parking for non-residents. Whatever the township saves its residents goes back to their families and our community. It’s great to see new families move into West Orange because of the jitney service.”
Rubin was overjoyed when Casalino called her last December to let her know that the town had purchased another shuttle bus with the goal of having the service up and running by late summer 2017. The new route was officially announced in Mayor Parisi’s State of the Township address in February. The process hit a snag, however, when a communication snafu made it seem that the new route would cover only Pleasantdale and not Redwood.
As reported in the March 23 issue of the West Orange Chronicle, the mayor stressed that the new route would encompass both Redwood and Pleasantdale and that the township “is committed to focusing on the Pleasant Valley and Eagle Rock corridor.” Leonard Lepore, the township engineer, is currently mapping out the new route. As they will be daily users of the service, jitney supporters are forcefully advocating they be included in the planning process and have already offered ideas to township officials.
“I know the town administration, together with our commuters and committee members who have worked tirelessly on this jitney expansion, can make this new service viable and efficient,” stated Rubin.
The cost of ridership, if any, is yet to be determined.
“This service will not only improve the life of West Orange commuters but also help to increase property values and make West Orange even more attractive to potential residents. I can’t wait to be a rider on the jitney’s inaugural run,” concluded Rubin.
By Sherry S. Kirschenbaum