Bus riders who travel between Newark and suburban Livingston and Maplewood might soon have to find a new way to get to work or shop in the new year.
All service on Coach USA’s 31 bus line could be scaled back to Downtown South Orange under a new proposal by the Independent Bus Company, which operates the New Jersey Transit-owned buses. Currently, service operates on many 31 buses between Newark Penn Station in Downtown Newark and the corner of Valley Street and South Orange Avenue in South Orange, where some buses continue west along South Orange Avenue to the Livingston Mall while others operate southwest along Valley Street towards the Maplewood Loop along Millburn Avenue.
Buses along the latter spur only operate during rush hour, and pass by Columbia High School and the Maplewood Municipal Building, while the route to Livingston is served by buses throughout the day and also stops at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. This service, which also traverses Newark’s Vailsburg neighborhood, is popular with people traveling to shop and work in Downtown Newark and at the Livingston Mall.
However, according to a legal notice, service to Livingston and Maplewood would be eliminated beginning January 1st, 2018 under the Independent Bus Company’s proposal. All buses on the line that currently travel to the Livingston Mall and the Maplewood Loop would instead terminate near the main South Orange Train Station. The company has applied for approval from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in order to legally make the change, citing two state statutes involving their certificate of public convenience and necessity. The matter was already discussed by the Livingston Township Council, but those still interested in objecting to the proposal can mail letters to the agency’s office in Trenton and the Fairfield office of the company’s attorney, Jerry Casser.
Under the new route proposal, riders residing along South Orange Avenue in Newark’s West Ward, for example, who work at Saint Barnabas or at the Livingston Mall would now have to take an inbound 31 bus to Downtown Newark and transfer to an outbound New Jersey Transit bus in order to reach their destination. However, since Coach USA buses do not accept most New Jersey Transit tickets or transfers, the riders would have to pay separate fares for each part of their commutes.
This is not the first recent change in service on the 31 line. In March, service on some buses during the day to Saint Barnabas and the Livingston Mall was scaled back to South Orange.
The discontinuation of bus service along Valley Street in Maplewood and most of South Orange would mark the first time in over a century that the block is not served by public transportation. The route that the 31 bus currently operates on was established after the South Orange Township Committee approved plans on January 16, 1896 for a trolley service to run on Valley Street, according to a 19th-century edition of The Engineering Record. Service began around 1900, and open-air trolleys operated by the Consolidation Traction Company of New Jersey and Public Service, now PSE&G, would run between Broad and Market Streets in Downtown Newark and these two growing ‘streetcar suburbs’.
As the Academy Heights Neighborhood Association describes, the community “evolved in an elongated fashion close to the streetcar line.” Records from the National Park Service show that Maplewood’s population increased by 51.2% from 1,078 in 1898 to 1,630 in 1900 when the new trolley opened. Over the next 30 years, hundreds of homes were constructed near the trolley line and throughout the surrounding community, bringing Maplewood’s population to 21,321.
In 1936, approval was granted for the trolley tracks to be removed from Valley Street. Buses ended up taking over the line, charging as little as five cents per ride. Although the base fare is 32 times that today, service has remained along the block for several decades since. Now, however, after over 115 years, the days that transit service operates on this corridor are likely numbered.