Regulations

New Jersey Operators Battle Over Jitneys

Linda Jagiela
Posted on October 11, 2013

Jitneys are minibuses that are operated at discount rates similar to those of public transit. In New Jersey, they’ve been giving chauffeured and charter transportation companies some unwanted and illegal competition.

New Jersey shore community operators Murray and Paul Rosenberg, who own Shore Limousine and Yellow Taxi, and Jeff Roberts, owner of Avalon Limousine Service, are fed up with jitneys. As members of the Limousine Associations of New Jersey (LANJ), they have been speaking out since early 2012. The LANJ members worried that jitney operators in Atlantic City were being given unfair advantage because they were not required to have the same insurance, background checks or licensing as other limousine operators in the state.

The problem was exacerbated when the jitneys began extending their reach beyond the shore communities and performing charter work. With the support of LANJ, the operators managed to get a bill put into the New Jersey House and Senate to level the playing field. Anyone who has worked through this process can tell you that it moves slowly. Although there were small wins, momentum was slow.

Fast forward to July 30, 2013: A minibus jitney barreled off a road killing an 8-month- old baby and sending seven others to the hospital. Officials said at the time of the crash the bus driver was speeding and using his cell phone before he hit a light pole which fell on the stroller, crushing the infant. The jitney here is not amnong the ones that the shore operators are fighting. These “jitneys” were actually buses taking advantage of 1975 legislation to skirt the rules and regulations that apply to the limousine industry. These “jitney buses” compete with New Jersey transit buses taking commuters between northern New Jersey and Manhattan for pennies less than the municipal buses. They are leased to the drivers for a fee similar to those of taxis and the drivers keep the profit at the end of the day over that fee. The payment system causes many drivers to disregard speed limits in order to optimize the number of trips they can perform.

Unfortunately, it took a death of a baby to open the eyes of regulators and legislators that our industry had been pursuing. The death prompted calls for more oversight.

“LANJ has always been at the forefront of passenger safety and security,” said Barry Lefkowitz, executive director of the group. “We believe that the special jitney legislation we have helped craft with Assemblyman Charles Mainor, D-Jersey City, and Sen. Nicholas J. Sacco, D-Bergen County, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, will accomplish that goal. LANJ has never attempted to put anyone out of business but to make sure there is a level playing field amongst operators.”

There are 190 jitneys in Atlantic City and the surrounding four towns, Lefkowitz said. It is unknown how many jitneys are operating in North Jersey, but he believes it to be in the hundreds.

Some important people have now jumped on LANJ’s bandwagon. Sacco and Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, D-Jersey City, are sponsoring the LANJ bill in the New Jersey Senate. They intend to call the bill “Angelie’s Law” after the baby girl who was killed.
The legislative sponsors and LANJ have agreed upon the following key items:

  • The fine structure will be the same as the current New Jersey limo law which LANJ helped draft.
  • Enforcement will be by local, county and state agencies, including Port Authority Police and Public Transit.
  • A hotline number for citizens to call to alert state officials of violations will be posted on the side of every jitney and jitney bus.
  • Police can use “probable cause” to enforce the law.
  • A requirement that all drivers have a CDL with criminal background check.
  • Cell phones may only be used in a hands-free mode with a $1,000 fine for violations.
  • A requirement for $5 million liability coverage for above 15 passengers.
  • Twice a year safety inspections by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
  • Labeling and proof of USDOT/FMCSA approval to conduct interstate transportation.
  • For leased vehicles to drivers, the owner will pay the same fines as the offending party.
  • For Atlantic City Jitneys, the following items and actions are prohibted: Open containers, interstate trips, charter work, and special routes outside of Atlantic City. Liability insurance will be raised from $100,000 to possibly $250,000.
  • If an Atlantic City jitney engages in charter or pre-arranged service, it has to be registered as a limo and follow all limousine requirements.

The battle is not over, but with the new focus from regulators and with growing support, the association is closer to success. LANJ is working closely with state and federal legislators to ensure enforcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation and at the state level. A meeting has been scheduled with legislative sponsors, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Ray Martinez, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Lefkowitz expects the New Jersey bill to pass before the end of the year.

Linda Jagiela is a contributing writer for LCT Magazine who covers industry associations on the East Coast. She can be reached at novedlinda@comcast.net

Related Topics: Atlantic city, Barry Lefkowitz, Eastern U.S. Operators, jitneys, LANJ, legislation, Limousine Association of New Jersey, New Jersey operators, state regulations

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