A cheer went up inside the bus as it pulled away from the curb on its maiden voyage. About a dozen passengers were on board as the Guttenberg Shuttle took off from in front of the senior building at 7005 Boulevard East on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Mayor Gerald Drasheff came along for the ride and served as de facto tour guide, chatting with passengers as they passed familiar landmarks. Also on board were Commissioner Alfonso Caso and Senior Citizen Coordinator Marisol Montanez.
Despite a few wrong turns on its debut outing, the trip took about half an hour. The service is currently scheduled to run Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the summer, traveling in a loop from one end of town to the other.
Beginning in front of the senior center, the bus heads up 70th Street to Adams, one block east of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, before turning around.
“We’re not going to the Boulevard,” said Drasheff. “That’s North Bergen. And the less we cross big streets, the better.”
From there the bus heads down 68th, scooting along Bergenline for a block and then continuing on 68th to Boulevard East. Passengers can get on board at any cross street along the route.
“I think once people know there’s a service they’ll be very creative to make it work for them.” –Mayor Gerald Drasheff
“This is the safest place because of the light,” said the mayor as the bus entered the Emergency Room driveway at Palisades Medical Center and swung in a loop around the hospital to come out at the traffic light. “I don’t want them trying to come out of the park and make a left” where there is no light.
If the event that Ferry Road is closed, the route will detour up Anthony M. Defino Way to 60th Street.
‘I need this’
Lucrezia Pavon and Maria Flores live in the senior building and were among the passengers on the debut ride, chattering excitedly with friends on the bus. Asked if they would use the service going forward, Pavon said, “Oh, si, si. For shopping.”
Cesar Perez, another senior building resident, agreed. “I need this. I have to go to Bergenline for shopping. I’ll use it all the time. It’s convenient for me.” He also intends to visit the Waterfront Park.
Maria and Jose Olaniel took the first loop around town, then stayed on the bus to head back to Bergenline as its first official passengers. “We’re going to go walking around, pass the day,” said Maria. They planned to use the bus regularly, especially for shopping.
“I think you’ll get a fair amount of people going from here to Bergenline Avenue,” said Drasheff as the bus pulled away from Boulevard East. “Part of the objective is to get the people on that side of town to come over here,” he added, citing the shops in the Galaxy and the local restaurants.
Through the summer the bus will detour on Sundays to James J. Braddock North Hudson Park, where it will make a stop at the farmers market.
“We considered trying to do a farmers market in Guttenberg but it’s tough to coordinate and there’s no need to do it,” said Drasheff. “You’ve got a big one up there that’s working fine.”
The shuttle route may also be modified for other special occasions or events.
“We’re looking at the possibility of doing the final concert of the season down on the river,” said Drasheff. In the past, Guttenberg’s Summer Concert Series always took place on Boulevard East, but now the Waterfront Park offers new possibilities. The band The Infernos are already booked for Aug. 26 and if logistics can be worked out, the show may take place along the river for the first time.
“North Bergen may want to join in,” said Drasheff. “Mayor Sacco is willing to use his buses to help us transport people back and forth. We’ve got two buses, he’s got two buses. With four buses you can move a lot of people.”
Expanding to seven days a week
The service is largely funded by a new grant from the state that gives Guttenberg approximately $100,000 a year for three years to offset costs. Among the conditions of the grant is that it must expand to weekday service. “We want to run seven days a week during daylight hours,” said Drasheff. “That’s our goal. I’d like to start that in the fall.”
Hours of operation may be adjusted seasonally to best accommodate residents. “Maybe in the summer we will want to run it till 8 p.m. for people shopping,” said Drasheff. “In the winter it’s kind of dead.”
He also sees the shuttle as a boon for residents going to New York. “For people who are on the west side of town and commute to New York, they’re walking over to Boulevard East now. They can hop on this to take them over to catch a bus.”
Similarly, he thinks residents in the waterfront communities may choose to use the shuttle to ride up to Boulevard East, where buses and jitneys to New York are much more frequent than along River Road. “So we may want to start it like 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. We’re going to feel our way,” he said.
“I think once people know there’s a service they’ll be very creative to make it work for them,” he said.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.