An adviser and former campaign manager for Gov. Phil Murphy reached out to the governor on behalf of a struggling private bus company that suspended service last week because of low ridership.
Brendan Gill, president of the Essex County Board of Freeholders, wrote Murphy on Aug. 7 about his concerns for the DeCamp bus company, which suspended its commuter routes on the same day because of the “sustained effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a notification to customers.
“Without reliable commuter and charter transportation service companies, the quality of life for so many of our residents will be severely impacted in a negative fashion,” Gill wrote in the letter. “Please look into what can be done on the State and local level to assist these private carrier companies, and our residents who rely on their services.”
Jerrel Harvey, a spokesman for Murphy, declined to comment on Gill’s letter to the governor, whether it’s an issue they’ve discussed or if there are plans to aid private bus companies.
At NJ Transit’s board meeting in June, Carol Katz of the lobbying firm Katz Government Affairs that represents the Bus Association of New Jersey, asked that the agency consider sharing some of the $1.4 billion in federal CARES Act funds it received with private bus operators, like DeCamp.
An NJ Transit official said the private carrier was not eligible to receive those federal funds, a point disputed by Katz, who said the company’s operating miles were used in the formula to disburse those monies.
Without monetary assistance, Katz warned these private operators would begin to fold as they have endured months of suspended service during the height of the pandemic and then low or no ridership when businesses began to reopen.
“Private carriers have been crushed by the pandemic. Our ridership levels tumbled more than 90% just like yours,” Katz told the board in June. “Unlike NJT, however, some carriers have had to close up shop completely for a time. Those that are providing limited service might not be able to keep running at a loss for long.”
Gill, who has worked in partnership with New Jersey’s second-largest lobbying firm Public Strategies Impact but is not himself a registered lobbyist, has had the governor’s ear on several issues impacting local businesses or policy issues.
Last year, Public Strategies Impact represented NY Waterway and the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association in lobbying efforts, according to state records.
In his letter, Gill told the governor that a future federal funding package under consideration by the U.S. Senate would not include relief for private bus companies.
DeCamp, like other peer companies, tried resuming limited service in June with new protocols that showed their commitment to rider safety with additional cleaning procedures and social distancing.
Customers who still hold DeCamp tickets can use them starting Aug. 10 through the end of the month on Coach USA buses, according to a partnership announced by the companies Monday.
Jonathan DeCamp, CEO of the 150-year-old company that began as a stage coach business in the 19th Century, told NorthJersey.com last week he is confident the company can get up and running once more people return to their New York commutes.
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.