Jitney operators will run the shuttle for the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl, but the true value of the service lies in uniting the business districts of three towns–if an agreement can be structured.
By Matt Skoufalos
After floating the idea of linking the downtown business districts of Haddonfield, Haddon Township, and Collingswood with a jitney service, organizers will forge ahead with the plan–with or without the participation of their neighbors.
Last Monday, Haddon Township Zoning and Planning Board member Nick Mink described a proposed route that would run the length of Haddon Avenue, with endpoints at the Ellis Street and Route 130 circles.
By week’s end, he confirmed that not only will the township test a modified version of the run at its 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, but also will look to extend the service thereafter.
“As far as Haddon Township is concerned, we’re moving forward,” Mink said. “We hope our neighbors are coming with us.”
Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague told NJ Pen that after speaking with jitney operators, he asked township solicitor Stuart Platt to research the legal implications of offering the service on a recurring basis.
“[Platt] did some preliminary research, and his position is that we as a town should be okay,” Teague said. “He isn’t sure what regulatory requirements there may be for the jitney operators.”
Any such arrangement would be executed at no cost to taxpayers, Teague said. The pub crawl jitney will be subsidized by the Haddon Township Business Improvement District (BID) at a “dirt cheap” price that is less than what the BID has paid for similar services in the past, said BID Director Kate Burns.
But the buy-in from other communities–at least for now–has been slow in coming.
‘A benefit to all three towns’
Despite extending invitations to nearby Collingswood and Haddonfield to participate in the pub crawl shuttle “like a test run” for a regular route, Mink said he didn’t find any takers.
“Collingswood respectfully declined,” Mink said; “Haddonfield hasn’t gotten back to us yet.”
Encouraged by public reception of his idea in the early going, Mink said he believed the service could be as beneficial to the three towns as to jitney operators who have come upon hard times in the economic decline of Atlantic City, where the service originated.
“The work in Atlantic City has become less and less, so they’re all kind of looking for more outside work,” Mink said. “[The 7-Mile Jitney] Sea Isle, Stone Harbor, Avalon has been such a hit for them [that]I think some people have saved their jobs being able to work there.”
If Haddon Township is able to co-sign Haddonfield and Collingswood, Mink thinks the three towns could ultimately collaborate on a broader, regional marketing effort to attract shoppers seeking a car-free experience.
“Breakfast, lunch, dinner, shopping, drinks, we’ve got you covered,” he said. “Take PATCO, take the jitney; you never have to take your car.”
Teague also is optimistic that a trans-borough shuttle service could help grow business in all three communities.
“We are fortunate that we have a Haddon Avenue that connects three business districts,” Teague said. “It would be nice if we could market ourselves together, because we are small towns, and maybe be able to better compete against the larger retail centers that are out there.
“As a downtown there’s much more to offer if you’re combining neighboring towns, especially if we’re contiguous,” he said. “I think that could be a benefit to all three towns.”
A match for transit-oriented communities
Keg and Kitchen owner Kevin Meeker said that a private shuttle service has always been a boon for the pub crawl, but added that he, too, would like to see it continued after the event.
Meeker said that the target tenants of transit-oriented developments like the Albertson Village construction project, which is nearing completion behind his bar, are in the perfect demographic to make use of a jitney.
“Millennials don’t like to drive,” he said. “Give them a way that they don’t have to drive, and they’re going to be saving the environment; they love it.”
“Whenever you have the ability to take public transportation, that’s always a lot better than [having]more cars on the road [or negotiating]the logistics of people pulling out of parking lots,” Meeker said.
Meeker also believes the customers who frequent his bar are just as likely to avail themselves of a jitney to patronize businesses in nearby towns, and dismissed the idea that a cross-town route would somehow boost business in one participating community at the expense of another.
“I think people get so sidetracked on ‘It’s only for our town,’ or ‘Only for that town;’ it’s just ridiculous,” he said. “It’s always a bad idea until someone does it and it works, and everyone sees that it works.
“Even as I age I like change,” Meeker said. “It’s what makes the world go ‘round.”
Burns agreed that each community offers a unique, if not complementary, value to its shoppers.
“The things that we have, Haddonfield doesn’t have,” she said. “Whether you believe it or not, we all need gas; we all need dry cleaners.
“We have some very unique destinations just like these other towns,” Burns said, “but I don’t think people realize when they go shopping that ‘I crossed out of Collingswood and I just hit Haddon Township.’ You go and shop where you want to shop.”
Although the PATCO Hi-Speedline already connects the boroughs on a path parallel to Haddon Avenue, Burns said she didn’t believe a jitney would compete with its ridership. Rather, she said, it could potentially function as a complementary service to the mass transit system.
“If you think about the power that PATCO has, it’s one of the reasons that people live here,” Burns said. “Many people live in these bedroom communities and commute to work, and vice-versa. They are coming here for the great school systems. They want the small town, the nice downtown Haddon Avenue, and they want access to public transportation into the city.”
Of course, Burns was also circumspect about celebrating the jitney before it clears the necessary regulatory hurdles on the operator side, which she said has been a historic sticking point in prior discussions.
“If the state doesn’t bless it, this is all moot,” she said.