“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Twenty years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, the first municipal jitney in New Jersey was launched. What started as a small grass roots effort, against all odds, with naysayers (including NJ Transit) vastly outnumbering supporters, this experiment in sustainable transportation was inaugurated as commuters rode to the station for the first time by public transportation in Maplewood’s old senior citizen bus.
The jitney’s story began in 1994 when a small group of determined residents opposed a 400-car parking garage that NJ Transit was offering Maplewood. In early 1995 the Township Committee rejected this proposal and created an ad hoc committee to study and explore solutions for parking problems anticipated by the new Midtown Direct service. In its commitment to volunteerism and ground up governing, the TC included residents on that committee who had opposed the parking deck. A year later the town accepted the ad hoc committee’s comprehensive parking study that included a proposal for a jitney. In the spring of 1996, a first grant was approved to test a single jitney line that would eventually grow into Maplewood’s four-route jitney system. Its success has led to many others around the state including South Orange, West Orange, Nutley, Union, and Livingston.
There are many who are responsible for the creation of Maplewood’s jitney system. Two of them, who were essential to its early development, passed away in recent years. On the jitney’s 20th anniversary, I would like to honor them. Township Committee member Mickey Stern was the jitney’s first advocate in Maplewood’s government. He organized and co-wrote the first jitney grants and promoted the creation of the Transportation Committee that was formed to support the jitney in its infancy when many assumed it would fail. Without Mickey’s enthusiasm and professional expertise the jitney may never have started.
The other person is Charlie Bibbins who conducted surveys, crunched budget numbers, juggled bus schedules and became a tireless advocate for the jitney. Charlie later assumed the chairmanship of the Transportation Committee and always recounted how he originally thought a commuter jitney would fail, but later became one of its greatest supporters, developing and promoting plans for its sustainability.
Today the jitney is part of Maplewood’s landscape. It is now a valuable public transportation system, saving more than 100 car trips a day, and reducing fuel use and pollution. Hopefully in the future, Maplewood will experiment with other applications for the jitney to further abate greenhouse gas emissions. For now though, on this St. Patrick’s Day, it reminds some of us of Margaret Mead’s valuable lesson – that a small group of committed people can, indeed, effect change.
Vicki Herzfeld Arlein
Co-founder with Barbara Novak of Maplewood’s jitney and Maplewood’s Transportation Committee