NJ Transit suspends its only bust stop in the county

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    SUSSEX COUNTY-As of May 2, the New Jersey Transit Route 194 bus to New York City no longer stops in Sussex County and bewildered riders still don't fully understand why. The former bus stop was located near the intersection of New Jersey Route 23 and County Road 515 in the parking lot of Victoria's Inn, which is owned by George Amoratis. Commuters say that officials have provided unsatisfying explanations for the suddenly suspended bus service, citing "unforeseen legal or liability issues." All that erstwhile bus riders know is that they now must trek every morning to the closest park-and-ride lot in Newfoundland during rush-hour traffic and pray they get there in time to secure one of the few available spaces. Two alternate park-and-ride lots are located on the Route 23-New York bus route, one in the Butler Meadtown Shopping Center, the other in Wayne. "I think the Hardyston stop was the only NJ Transit stop in Sussex County," explained commuter Greg Ludwig. "It was popular, and it was a convenience to the 55 or so people who used it daily. Everyone is puzzled and disappointed." Ludwig said that commuters were jubilant when NJ Transit established the stop in December 2003. The owners of Victoria's Mountain Inn say they were happy to oblige when New Jersey Department of Transportation offered them a three-year contract to establish a park-and-ride for 30 cars on inn property. Because the inn operates only on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, the parking lot was nearly empty from Monday through Friday. The transportation department paid the Amoratis $1 per day for each of the 30 cars authorized to park there n about $600 per month. A Victoria's Inn spokeswoman, who identified herself only as Victoria, said that about 55 cars on average had been parking in the lot. "The county was behind us and so was the governor's office," she said. "We were doing this for the good of the people, because we saw it needed to be done. We're not making any real money. Maintaining the lot can be hard work. Every weekend I picked up several bags of fast-food wrappers and other trash commuters leave in the lot." The problem as "Victoria" sees it is that the bus crossed over a corner of Newark watershed land. Although a few commuters did park on watershed land, no one, to her knowledge, ever had objected. At the heart of the problem, Victoria claims, is Hardyston's requirement for the inn owners to prepare a site plan for the parking lot at their own expense. Preparing such a plan would set the inn back about $2,000. She charges Hardyston with being "anti-mass transit" for requesting the plan. Not so, says Township Manager Marianne Smith, who affirms that although Hardyston has requested a site plan from Victoria's Mountain Inn, the parking lot shutdown has nothing at all to do with the request, which isn't even on the table for discussion. The issue, says Smith, is related exclusively to a DOT-property owner contractual issue. "Hardyston has nothing to with the suspension of bus service," she said. "We want commuters to have convenient transportation, and we're working with DOT to solve the difficulties." Spokeswoman Janet Hines of New Jersey Transit referred all questions about the bus stop to Brendan Gill of the NJDOT. Gill explained that the issue was similar to a border war. The lease between DOT and the inn does not specify precisely where on the property cars may park. Some of the drivers unknowingly had been "crossing the border," he said, and spilling over onto Newark watershed land. Because NJDOT does not have a contract for park-and-ride spaces with the City of Newark, a liability issue existed. NJ Transit, Hardyston, NJDOT, and the property owners are working to solve the problem and either reopen the lot or identify an alterative site, Gill said. "We hope for resolution as soon as possible, and we want to be sure to apply the principles of safely, and operational viability. We mean to examine the site to see whether enough parking exists for the likely volume of use. We're also exploring the possibility of entering into an agreement with the City of Newark. DOT is sensitive to the needs of Sussex County bus riders and we want to solve the problem as rapidly as possible." NJ Transit reportedly is putting together a plan to adjust the fares of Hardyston bus riders who a