(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Angela McKnight, John Wisniewski and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to help enhance the safety of jitney buses traveling on New Jersey roads gained approval from the General Assembly on Thursday.
Introduction of the measure followed the October 2016 death of George Gonzalez, an 11-year-old Jersey City boy who was fatally struck by a jitney bus at an intersection. Because local city councils and township committees have no authority to regulate the vehicles, the entities in the best position to prevent and respond to such tragedies in their own communities currently cannot do so, the sponsors noted.
“The tragic loss of 11-year old George Gonzalez was a sad reminder of how vital it is to regulate commuter buses and ensure that they serve their communities safely,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “We need to empower local communities who are dealing with these public safety issues. This legislation aims to give the power back to the municipalities where these autobuses operate.”
The bill (A-4323) calls for local approval of privately-owned, low-cost commuter shuttle buses that operate on public roads in New Jersey, colloquially referred to as “jitney buses.” Under the legislation, owners of the vehicles would be required to register the buses with each municipality in which they wish to operate and receive approval to conduct business from each municipality’s governing board.
“Jitneys provide a valuable service in a number of communities, but we have to ensure that they are a safe mode of transportation,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Giving local officials more authority in this regard will allow those who are familiar with how jitney routes affect overall traffic patterns to influence decisions and ultimately improve public safety.”
“There are many jitney operators who drive responsibly and help members of their community arrive at their destinations without incident. There are others, however, who engage in reckless behavior and endanger the public, and they must be held accountable,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee. “Allowing municipal governments to set standards for who operates within their jurisdictions and make decisions accordingly will enable leaders on the local level to carry out their duty to keep their communities safe.”
“For the sake of the public’s well-being, local officials need to have some authority when it comes to jitney buses,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), vice-chair of the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee. “If jitney bus operators behave in ways that threaten public safety, the municipalities in which they’re operating ought to be able to intervene.”
A violation of the bill’s provisions would carry a civil penalty of $1,000 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second violation and $5,000 for a third or subsequent violation.
The bill would augment accountability measures enacted in 2014 under Angelie’s Law, legislation named after 8-month-old Angelie Paredes, who in 2013 was killed by a lamppost struck by a jitney driver who was using his cell phone.
The Assembly passed the measure 63-11-3.