Out of the Jam
June 22, 2023
Most major cities have public transportation. Where is Lakewood’s?
Do you feel like you spend half your day in the car?
I shouldn’t even ask, right? It’s the story of our lives.
Head to work; sit in traffic on the Nine. Pick up the kids from the babysitter; more traffic on the 88. Run to the grocery store, pick up one child from a friend and drive another to her tutor and back; spend some more time staring at the car in front of you.
And then, 8 p.m. when you’re finally settling down, your teenager calls. “Can you pick me up from play practice?”
It’s a 25-minute drive and a Lakeway will be a fortune, but what choice do you have at this point? You call her a taxi because you just can’t leave the house again.
Lakewood, once a small country town, has developed into a bustling city that sprawls over many neighborhoods. As the borders extend, the places we need to get to are getting further away, and the traffic we get stuck in on our commutes is only getting worse.
Most major cities have public transportation. Where is Lakewood’s?
Behind the bus
Particularly in the chassidish neighborhoods, where the majority of the women don’t drive, public transportation is a necessity. In most other chassidish communities, the shopping centers are walking distance from most homes. Lakewood’s layout is drastically different, and a lack of public transportation is a real hurdle.
Lakewood’s public transportation has experienced slow growth, but there is one person who is doing all he can to speed up the process.
When Lipa Klein, askan and director of nonprofit organization CARES (see sidebar), moved to Lakewood eight years ago from Brooklyn, he started advocating for more transportation.
“Many of the people who move here from New York are missing services that they used to have. The Belzer Dayan Rav Pinchos Wind asked me to step in. He constantly tells me, ‘Lipa, I want the whole town to benefit from this service.’”
Back in 2016, the township had a route that serviced the industrial part of Lakewood and another route that went from Westgate to 14th Street, two areas where the township saw the most growth.
But just those two routes weren’t doing the trick. There was plenty of untapped potential, particularly in the south side of Lakewood, which was undergoing a massive population explosion at the time.
“I had a conversation with Public Works when I moved here,” Lipa relates. “I told them that I was trying to solve the traffic problems in Lakewood. ‘It’s a challenge; we appreciate your assistance,’ the township replied.” With that go-ahead, Lipa became the unofficial lobbyist for more buses.
In February of 2016, Lipa created surveys which were then distributed in the south side of Lakewood to gauge the level of necessity and where the buses would get the most usage.
“At the time, Jay’s Bus Service was in charge of the shuttle, and Mrs. Greenspan, who managed it at the time, really wanted to assist with the community’s needs.”
Two runs were started on April 3, 2016. It was an experiment—and a wildly successful one. The buses received an unprecedented level of use.
In 2020, Lipa created a hotline where users can find out about any updates to the shuttle’s schedule.
Today, six years later, there are 130 runs a week, with hundreds of calls coming in.
One of the main goals of public transit was to bring businesses to local stores. That’s one of the reasons why the bus routes were designed to loop around the shopping centers.
But the services aren’t just limited to within Lakewood. Lipa has worked with members of others communities in the area as well. “People from Toms river reached out that they would also like to have transportation services. The TRJCC worked with Dave Fitzgerald, director of Ocean Ride, to add a route from Toms River to Lakewood so people can shop in stores that carry their unique products. Dave is the type of guy who makes things work even when he needs to put a lot of effort into it.”
Originally, there was a bus coming into the shopping centers only on Wednesdays; after May 8 this year, a route was added for Mondays as well.
More buses please?
The idea of a shuttle sounds very appealing to the yungerman in BMG crawling through traffic each morning, and the $1 cost is a definite plus over a car service.
But although the demand for more buses keeps growing, it’s not that simple to meet it.
“Public transportation entails much more than people realize,” Lipa points out. “For starters, the state and city police have to approve the routes. We once had the police pull over a bus on Route Nine, saying that since Route Nine is a state highway, buses can’t stop there.”
Creating a route is a science. “Everybody wants to be picked up from their dining room and dropped off on the grocery shelf, but it doesn’t work that way.” The stop needs to be at a useful point of interest, and the street needs to be wide enough to accommodate the bus—a qualification many roads in Lakewood lack.
In addition, the bus drivers need to be familiar and comfortable with the routes, the buses need to be good-quality, and there need to be the funds for the entire project. Moreover, buses aren’t something you can pick up in the grocery store; there is a 13-month turnaround for new buses.
“Running a transportation fleet is complex. It involves bus maintenance, hiring reliable drivers, complying with DOT and state laws and regulations, insurance coverage for drivers and passengers…the list goes on and on.”
In October of 2022, CARES Council was appointed by the township as the official bus liaison.
“We would like to see the buses expand,” Patrick Donelly, the municipal manager of Lakewood Township, says. “We envision it becoming a major factor in public transportation.”
The council is in touch with New Jersey Transit and askanim from the north side of Lakewood about creating the opportunity for mass transit.
“We sent representatives to Monsey and Kiryas Yoel to talk with them about their transportation. We’re not resting in our goal to create more bus routes.”
The council has been very helpful with regard to the frum community’s schedule. “Lakewood Public Works director Phil Roux and superintendent Jose Santiago do their best to make sure that even on the days that the township is closed, there will still be a shuttle.”
As the process unfolds, patience is necessary, though.
“Please don’t bombard the council,” Lipa implores the public. “We are working to make changes, and just looking at how much was accomplished already should give an idea of what can change. Email us with your opinions and suggestions, but keep in mind that it’s a step-by-step process.
“We thank the Lakewood Township committeemen and employees, especially Committeeman Lichtenstein, Mayor Ray Coles, Patrick Donnelly, Phil Roux, Govenor Murphy, LDC chairman Rabbi Avrum Moshe Muller, treasurer Rabbi Weisberg, and the board members for collaborating with us to meet our goals.”
Good news on the horizon
Although it won’t happen overnight, there is good news ahead for Lakewood’s weary drivers. On June 14, the New Jersey State government approved $1.68 million for new buses. A survey is currently going to print to be distributed by ambassadors from each community in the north side of town to understand where it is best to implement new routes.
As Lakewood drivers continue to struggle with the traffic in Lakewood, it’s encouraging to know that there is a plan in progress.
CAREing for all
Lipa Klein is no stranger to working for the public. In addition to his work on the Lakewood shuttle, he is the director of CARES, Community Advocacy Resources and Education Services, a nonprofit New Jersey-based organization.
Many people are prevented from effectively communicating with the government because of a language barrier, including members of the Lakewood community. Numerous locals put in requests for an organization that meets the needs of Yiddish-speaking families.
Upon the specific request of the Belzer Dayan and the Yampele Rav from Monsey, CARES was launched.
CARES helps business owners apply for grants and loans through the LDC and connects them with mentors and other funding sources, a vital service among others.
“There are many young people who want to get started in business, and we help them out with small-business owners events. We cover a lot of topics at these events relating to starting one’s own company, such as entrepreneurship, sales, time management, networking, and the like.”
In addition, CARES assists people with the paperwork needed to apply for government programs and helps with marriage licenses, passports, and MVC services.
“For many people who move to Lakewood, navigating health insurance in a language they are not familiar with is daunting. We have people call us with all types of health and insurance emergencies, and we try to assist them.”
The township is looking for more drivers to help expand this service. Let CARES Council know if you would like to join the drivers’ team at email@example.com.
Shuttle number: 732-929-6929
Email office @carescouncil.org for questions about the service
By the numbers
8 buses currently in service
6 routes per day
747 Lakewood businesses serviced
585 riders per day
3,120 riders per week
162,000 riders annually
Average of 200 calls a day from 2,438 unique numbers
$1 per ride (this has been waived since covid)