The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to happen at lightning speed. News and information were constantly changing, and NJ TRANSIT continued to act swiftly to adapt to the ever-evolving conditions and recommendations, all while keeping the safety of the employees and customers at the forefront of its thinking.
The agency sprang into action even before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in New Jersey with NJ TRANSIT becoming one of the first transit agencies in the country to begin disinfecting vehicles, terminals and major stations every 24 hours. This monumental undertaking was no small feat for the nation’s largest statewide public transportation system which provides more than 925,000 weekday trips on 253 bus routes, three light rail lines, 12 commuter rail lines and through Access Link paratransit service. NJ TRANSIT recognizes its customer’s concerns regarding returning to mass transit but assures its riders that the bus, light rail, train or Access Link vehicle they are riding in, and the terminal and station they are utilizing, are safe and ready for their return.
To help make sure customers continue to comply with the mask requirements onboard vehicles and inside stations, NJ TRANSIT collaborated with several regional transit agencies (e.g., MTA, PATH, SEPTA) to establish a “MASKFORCE” to encourage proper mask usage. More than 100,000 free masks have been distributed to customers through NJ TRANSIT’s Customer Service offices and MASKFORCE program. Additionally, NJ TRANSIT instituted a pilot program to install Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Vending Machines in select stations to provide PPE purchase options for customers.
Once COVID-19 vaccinations became available, NJ TRANSIT ensured all employees were prioritized for vaccines, including making necessary preparations to vaccinate all employees – not just frontline workers — on-site at work locations throughout the state. When availability was expanded, NJ TRANSIT kicked off a new public-private partnership to help New Jersey residents get vaccinated by offering complimentary rides to and from vaccination sites within the state. The VAXRIDE initiative has been implemented to provide detailed transit information to vaccine sites, along with free rides sponsored by corporate partners, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Catalent. Customers can use the mobile app and use the code “VAXRIDE” to obtain their two complimentary round-trip tickets or contact NJ TRANSIT’s customer service if they don’t have a smartphone.
The agency also worked alongside the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) to provide space at three transit hubs for the NJDOH and the NJ All-Hazards Incident Management Team to offer vaccines to the public this past spring.
The pandemic also changed many New Jersey resident’s transportation needs. As working from home and hybrid work schedules became more common, NJ TRANSIT created a new flexible ticket type to better serve its riders. The FLEXPASS discounted ticketing option was created to accommodate customers whose commuting patterns have changed due to COVID-19. FLEXPASS consists of 20 one-way tickets between one customer-selected origin and one destination and is sold at a 20% discount off the one-way fare. FLEXPASS tickets are available for purchase for bus, rail and light rail, and are currently offered for purchase via the NJ TRANSIT Mobile App during the pilot.
Some other ways in which NJ TRANSIT responded to the COVID crisis include the launch of an extensive “Ride to Recovery” and secured more than $4 billion in federal Coronavirus relief funding to maintain full-service levels for customers throughout the pandemic.
In the pursuit of safety, NJ TRANSIT turned to technology to find new and innovative ways to keep their riders safe and informed. The agency created the “How Full Is My Ride” app, to inform customers about crowding conditions on buses and trains before they board. NJ TRANSIT also made numerous improvements to Access Link, including the launch of Access Link Online, to enable online reservations, cancellations and cashless payments for trips via EZ-Wallet.