New Brunswick Transportation Issues for Low-Income Residents
By Noa Halff, Jennifer Tatiana and Tejal Sarbaugh
Low-income residents of New Brunswick face difficulties with the conditions and costs of available transportation options within the city. Many New Brunswick residents living in a state of low income and poverty tend to walk as their main mode of transportation, said Mona Patel, program director at the charity organization, Urban Impact. While public transportation is available, she said it is cheaper for those in poverty to walk from place to place rather than spend a few dollars.
“There’s a lot of poverty in the urban community. You never have a car,” she said. “Everyone takes mass transportation or walks miles a day.”
The largest portion of New Brunswick citizens, 33.8 percent, do not own a vehicle, according to a Data USA report. Many low-income and foreign-born populations depend on public transportation, but face major problems with it on a daily basis. The link between transportation and social mobility is stronger than many other factors, like crime, education, or family structure, according to a Harvard study by economist Nathaniel Hendren, reported in the New York Times. Another study found populations that lacked access to transportation had the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes, according to the article. In 2000, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), with NJ TRANSIT, prepared an Urban Transportation Supplement to the state’s Long-Range Transportation Plan. The plan said diverse populations, including low-income, minority, and elderly citizens, depend on public transportation. The plan summarized the needs for transportation to “serve both increasing development and redevelopment,” an “aging infrastructure that must be maintained and rehabilitated” and a “mismatch between the locations of housing and jobs.” Regardless of these efforts both immigrants and low-income families are just some of those who still heavily depend on the transportation systems in New Brunswick, a transportation system with many flaws. As time progresses the residents urge the city of New Brunswick to provide an increased, improved, and accessible means of public transit.
Additionally, public transportation does not always reach areas where residents need to travel, and most require reservations ahead of time. The M1 and M2 New Brunswick Shuttles charge an additional fee of $2 to passengers needing transportation past the Walmart in North Brunswick. These transports operate between 6:45 a.m. and 4:50 p.m., only making 10 stops, and do not operate on most holidays. If citizens work past these set hours or need to find shelter on holidays, they must walk or find other means of transport—most of which cost money.
Patel said that “Dial-A-Ride” is a popular alternative to walking for low-income citizens . It is a van service in which residents can call ahead in order to book a certain block of time to ride the van, and they can request it to travel to a certain area or location. It is available for seniors over 60 years of age, those with mental or physical disabilities, and those living under welfare. Low-income residents must provide proof to the transportation offices of their eligibility for the service before making a reservation. According to the official New Brunswick website, those needing the service must call at least two days prior to using the service. This service is not always available to residents, since not all can plan ahead, Patel said. Furthermore, the van only grants transportation for a small block of time to each passenger. Considering that the van could hold 10 to 20 people, depending on its size, a resident may be waiting hours before reaching their destination. As a result, most will choose walking.
Charity services within the area do not offer transportation to low-income residents either. Organizations such as soup kitchens and The Salvation Army provide amenities and shelter for those in poverty, but the residents must find their own transportation. Urban Impact will consider giving a ride to those without a car, but only accommodate residents who participate in their programs.
New Labor is an organization that aims to empower immigrant workers throughout New Jersey by improving their working conditions and allowing their voices to be heard. Founded in 2000, the organization advocates for policies promoting justice for immigrants and has helped workers recover unpaid wages, gain safe working conditions, learn English, computer skills, and more. Although, based in New Brunswick and Lakewood, New Jersey, New Labor is part of the national campaign working for humane immigration reform.
One of the biggest issues that New Labor addresses is the wage theft that immigrants tend to face. The majority of immigrants depend on temporary work agencies to provide them with daily work where they face many internal issues that could affect their pay. Day laborers fall into the category of low-income residents in New Brunswick; for the most part, they have no means of getting to the factories that will provide them with temporary employment. In order to alleviate this issue, the work agencies arrange van services that transport the workers from the agencies to the factories and then back to the factories at the end of the workday.
While these vans provide an option for transportation, the cost is an issue for some residents and workers who use them. The vans charge a weekly fee between 40-45 dollars. For low-income users, this is a steep price, said Justino Rubio, a New Brunswick worker and daily van user. The time and money workers like Rubio spend for van transportation is unreasonable in comparison to the amount they have to work and the wage they receive.
“I leave at 5:30 a.m. to the agencies,” he said, through a translator. “The time spent in the van between agencies and the factories is about half an hour. They charge us $40 per week for the van service. We only make about $240 a week and they even charge us to cash the checks in for money.”
Overcrowding is an additional concern that many who use the vans encounter. A four seater van is crammed with often up to 18 people, Rubio said. Not only does this prolong the ride, make it uncomfortable and frequently prevent workers from reaching their specific destination at the correct time, it is also a safety hazard and illegal.
The vans also do not stop in all areas of the city, and do not always make it apparent about where their route is heading. This is an inconvenience for people who need to be at a specific place, especially when it is for their job. “In one occasion an agency sent me to work in nearby New Brunswick, but she did not send the van service to pick me and my Colombian co-worker up,” Rubio said. He asked all the buses that stopped nearby if they were heading to New Brunswick but none of them were heading in that direction. “We were stranded until a man stopped who was on his way to New Brunswick,” he said. “I told them that the agency we work for dropped us off in the morning but didn’t pick us up again at night. He kindly offered to take us back to New Brunswick.”
Weekly fees and overcrowded vans are only a few of the inconveniences that day laborers face. Rafael Sanchez, a Mexican day laborer and daily van user, feels these issues stem from the authority given to the van drivers by the agencies which causes them to behave irresponsibly. Sanchez has experienced instances in which these drivers have made him fear for his life.
“I usually sit in the front with the driver,” Sanchez said. “There have been instances that I see the wheel start to shift on its own as he begins to fall asleep. He shouldn’t be tired and putting our lives at risk. The interesting thing is, he does not work any other shift but ours, that is what the head of the agency tells me when I complain. They also never use blinkers, sometimes we come close to accidents with trucks.”
In addition to this safety hazard, both Sanchez and Rubino expressed their frustration regarding the lack of air conditioning and heat in the vans themselves, “If it’s hot they never put on the air conditioner, if it is cold they never put on the heater. I feel bad for the women; they suffer most from these cruel treatments.” Sanchez said how women have an even harder time speaking out for fear of the repercussions that may come along with it; many feel that if they complain they won’t be sent to work anymore.
Rubino and Sanchez are just two examples of the abuse suffered by day-laborers via the van system in New Brunswick. For some, such as Sanchez, being a part of New Labor provides him with the confidence that so many temporary workers need, “I tell the agencies and the van drivers that I am with New Labor and that I know my rights, I speak out because my voice is not just my voice it’s the voice of all my people, workers everywhere,” he said.