Senior transit trauma


It’s coming. Not tomorrow, not next week but certainly sometime this year.

So assured Kearny Health Director Ken Pincus at last Tuesday’s meeting of the municipal governing body when asked about the arrival of a new bus earmarked for transporting local seniors.

The topic came up after Mayor Alberto Santos noted that “repair A/C in senior citizen buses” had been listed among overtime expenses for the past two-week period.

Of the three vehicles available, Pincus said, two date from 2008 and the third, used as a spare, was obtained in 1997.

Current odometer readings, as per DPW Director Gerry Kerr, log 104,500 miles on the ’97 model (B-4), 84,500 miles on one of the ’08 vehicles (B-2) and 79,000 for the other ’08 bus (B-1).

All are “in poor condition,” Pincus reported, “and always breaking down.”

In fact, he added, just recently, “a window just exploded out of one bus.” Luckily, nobody was hurt in that incident.

It cost about $25,000 last year just to ensure that the rolling stock keeps on rolling, Pincus said.

Not that the Board of Health, which has jurisdiction over the senior buses, has been ignoring the problem, he maintained.

“There’s one bus we’ve been working on four years, trying to get delivery on,” Pincus explained, based on a federal grant program for which his predecessor, John Sarnas, had applied through NJ Transit.

Delivery of a new 2016 bus, priced at “between $57,000 and $60,000” and equipped with a wheelchair lift, air-conditioning and overhead racks for bags and such (but no in-flight movies), was originally promised by this winter, then revised to mid-year.

“The last thing they told me was by the end of this year,” Pincus said.

In the meantime, Pincus is submitting a new detailed application for two additional new buses through NJ Transit under the Federal Transit Administration, Department of Transportation’s Section 5310 grant program for Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities which is due by Aug. 5.

Elaborating on the condition of the existing vehicles, Kerr said there was an incident where the emergency exit window in the B-2 bus had broken.

“We just did major work to the engine – it had a failed water pump,” he said. “And two of the three buses had a broken A/C. It sporadically gives us problems. The problems are difficult to diagnose and then it takes time to fix them.”

All three are 16-seater Ford vehicles. B-1 and B-2 are the primary buses used while B-4 is a spare.

Kearny’s senior buses don’t get any time off. They’re on the road seven days a week: Monday to Friday, they can be seen rumbling along two designated routes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., all within the town.

Now in her 17th year as a driver, Sandra Walsh said she and her fellow operators have been picking up and dropping off their passengers at church, doctor’s offices, shopping centers, social events, election polls and even exercise facilities.

If a bus reaches its seating capacity, then folks waiting to get aboard are advised to wait for the next bus because no standees are permitted, according to Walsh.

For many, the bus is an essential form of transportation.

“Most of them have never driven before,” said Walsh. “The bus is the only way for them to get to the food store.”

Readily agreeing, Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, senior citizen liaison, said that for many elderly in Kearny, the senior bus “is the only means of transportation that’s affordable. They can’t take a cab or call Uber.”

So they wait for the bus.

Learn more about the writer ...