New Jersey Transit Bus Passes: A Flawed System
As a former daily rider of NJT (New Jersey Transit) buses, I have come to the conclusion that it may be time for NJT to do some upgrades. The first upgrade that they should focus on is getting better paper for their monthly bus passes. Although this may not sound like a major issue, having cheap paper for a monthly bus pass poses a lot of problems for not only riders, but for drivers as well. The passes are printed on thin, cheap paper that can easily be ripped or water-damaged in the slightest bit of rain. The ink that is used to print the pass (they are actually printed out of a printer rather than having a card or something similar), fades out like watercolor paint that has been diluted. This may hold up bus drivers, because the passes are color-coded according to the month, and if the driver does not see the color, they have to take extra time out to inspect the pass and make sure its valid. Also, because they are so flimsy, sometimes the wind will pull them right out of your hand and you may end up running down the street chasing your pass. Also, if you laminate your bus pass to protect it, its no longer valid. Lamination is against NJT policy. What's even crazier about the bus pass issue is that the receipt that you get when you pay for your bus pass is printed out on a high-quality, card stock-type photo paper. So I'm trying to figure out why NJT thinks its more important to have a durable receipt than a durable bus pass that you have to use for a whole month.
Another flaw that NJT has is the way that passengers use their monthly bus passes. Instead of a machine that "reads" your card, such as those that are on the MTA buses in NYC, passengers simply show their bus passes to the driver (which is why it's bad when your pass gets wet and the color fades). This system may have worked just fine a couple of decades ago, but now with everything being automated, computerized, and everyone being in such a rush, it would probably be simpler for NJT to have card readers on the bus. And since NJT has a complex "fare zone" system, which will be covered in the next paragraph, sometimes passengers travel to certain destinations without paying the full fare because most drivers can't just simply remember which zone all of their passengers' bus passes were valid for.
Now we get to the complex "fare zone" system. What exactly is a fare zone? Well, depending on where a passenger is boarding the bus, a fare zone is basically the amount of money that the passenger pays for the distance that the passenger will be traveling. For example, if you have a one-zone pass, as indicated in the picture to the right by the large number 1 in the middle of the pass, that allows you to travel anywhere in the city that you are boarding the bus in. So if you are in Newark, you board the bus in Newark, and you get off in Newark, then you have only traveled in one zone and the single ride fare is $1.50, plus an extra seventy cents for a transfer. The monthly one zone bus pass is $54. If you board the bus in Newark, you get off in Paterson, you have traveled four zones, so the bus fare is $3.50 plus seventy cents for a transfer. The monthly four zone pass is $92. It doesn't matter which city you buy your bus pass in. Once you have the pass, if you board in a particular city, that's where your fare zone will start. What makes this system complex is that there are approximately thirty-nine zones in northern New Jersey. That is a lot of zones for a passenger to sort through to try to figure out how much money they need for the bus. And since there aren't any automatic card readers on the bus, the passengers are supposed to tell the bus driver which zone they are traveling to. So that makes things even worse for the poor bus drivers who have to try and remember that passenger who told them they were only traveling three zones, and hid in the back of the bus, and got off at zone nineteen. Because of this problem, I've seen passengers be wrongly accused of not paying the correct amount of money, as well as passengers who get away with not paying the full fare. I was a victim of being wrongfully accused of not paying the full amount when I traveled a four zone trip. I took me about five minutes to convince the driver that I had paid the correct amount. Other passengers were annoyed at the fact that the bus was being delayed and finally the driver just gave in and agreed that I'd paid the correct amount. Passengers are able to buy advanced tickets from customer service centers at select locations such as bus terminals or automatic ticket vending machines, and the tickets will have the number of zones that the passenger is traveling. However, this still does not eliminate the problem of a passenger buying a ticket for a certain amount of zones, and then traveling a different amount.
There are two really simple solutions to solve the majority of the problems that NJT bus passes create. Number one: install an automatic card reader system on the buses, and number two: change the monthly passes from flimsy paper passes to plastic cards with computer chips embedded in them, such as the SmartLink cards for NJT PATH trains (I've had my SmartLink card for a year now, very durable!). Not only will these changes save money and paper for NJT, but it will be a lot less hassle for customers and bus drivers.