With Demographics Examined, Freeholders Settle for Up to date County Transportation Plan

HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ – Meagan Q. O’Reilly, director of the county human services division, and Tara Shepherd, general manager of the statewide nonprofit goHunterdon, presented the board of directors of selected shareholders with a new five-year update to the county’s coordinated human services transportation schedule.

The national plan was created in 2007 and was approved by the shareholders when it was drawn up. Hunterdon County’s strategic planning for this approved plan is focused on access and reliability of transportation solutions for the county’s most vulnerable groups.

The plan is updated every five years. It was updated initially with contributions from goHunterdon and NJTransit in 2009, then in 2015 and now again in 2020.

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GoHunterdon has been the district’s lead agency for updates to the district’s coordinated transport planning since 2009. Flemington-based nonprofit 501c3 is dedicated to its mission of delivering sustainable, environmentally conscious, and innovative transportation solutions for Hunterdon County, working with sub-funding from the Federal Highway Administration through the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the State Department of Transportation, New Jersey and Road Safety Division NJ TRANSIT and private funding sources.

O’Reilly noted that the coordinated plan presented was a “data-driven decision-making approach,” with metrics for the groups most in need of county-operated transportation, including in part Hunterdon’s relationships with neighboring counties to the north, east and south – Warren, Somerset and Mercer. One of the county-provided transportation gaps identified in this year’s updated plan is transportation outside of the county to facilities (such as medical centers and clinics) in adjacent counties in western New Jersey.

Shepherd gave the board a brief overview of the plan and key takeaways for each target demographic, as well as the service and transit gaps identified during the planning process, and closed with the plan’s new recommendations.

On November 18, the county’s LINK Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) formally approved the recommended changes to the 2020 plan update. The TAC meetings are coordinated by O’Reilly. Membership includes a broad representation of community stakeholders and consumers.

With the owners’ approval of the plan on December 15, the Hunterdon County’s governing body approved of the TAC’s approval and approved all findings and recommendations included in the 2020 Transport Plan Update.

“The transportation landscape in Hunterdon County has changed dramatically over the past five years, including the proliferation of taxis, app-based services like Lyft and Uber, and other car transportation providers, and changes to our LINK bus transportation service,” said Shepherd. “With this nationwide update to the Human Services Transportation Plan, demographic trends have also changed significantly, including the key groups we are focusing on.”

When the demographics of the population served by the county’s LINK transportation and ancillary services were unveiled on December 16, Shepherd took the time to tell the Freeholder Board that most people fall into several categories, as of the coordinated transportation schedule for human services – the elderly, the disabled, U.S. military veterans, and low-income people in Hunterdon County.

“There are often several dynamics that come into play,” she said. “You often have a senior who is also a disabled person who also has a low income, or there may be veterans who are also low income or have a disability. In most cases, individuals fall into more than one category, which is important. “

Before the pandemic (identified in the first three months of 2020), the Hunterdon County’s poverty rate was 3.8 percent. Shepherd stated that the economic impact of COVID-19 would have likely increased that percentage.

She said 20 percent of Flemington Borough’s residents are low-income.

“Health and retail services are the sectors with the most job opportunities for low-income people,” she said. “It’s important to note that while we’re looking at the poverty rate, the identification of ‘limited income, restricted income’ is 22 percent of households in Hunterdon County, while the state average in New Jersey is 28 percent.”

Seniors represent a large population served by LINK and other means of transport provided by the county. According to Shepherd, the elderly (older) adult population in Hunterdon County saw a 30 percent increase for residents aged 65 and over between the 2015 plan update and this year.

Another key statistic she brought to the county board, considering the updated plan, is that 21 percent of the county’s elderly population are 80 years or older.

Shepherd noted that in eight specific communities in Hunterdon County, seniors make up 20 percent or more of the local population. These parishes are Lambertville City, East Amwell Township, Franklin Township (Hunterdon), Milford Borough, Stockton Borough, Kingwood Township, Tewksbury Township, and Delaware Township.

In addition, Raritan Township and Readington Township have seen large increases in their senior population, Shepherd told the county board.

Hunterdon County is well divided on the demographics of people with disabilities, with 47 percent of the county’s disabled people being under 65 while 53 percent are seniors 65 and over.

However, Shepherd said that a younger population of disabled adults in the county has declined and the population of disabled people cared for by the LINK and other transportation plans drawn up by the county is mostly elderly.

“Among people with a disability over 65, that population has increased by 26 percent and has been increasing steadily since 2015, while the younger population of people with disabilities has declined,” Shepherd said.

Military veterans are another important community in Hunterdon that is serviced by the county human resources department. In Hunterdon County, 73 percent of resident veterans are 65 years and older, but the majority of county veterans are 75 years and older.

“This veteran population in particular continues to need (transportation to) preventive medicine outside of the county rather than emergency medical care in the county,” Shepherd said.

Another gap that the 2020 Plan closes is increased coordination and cooperation with neighboring transport systems in the county (in Somerset, Warren and Mercer), including for system transfers outside of Hunterdon county.

“Early morning, night and weekend transportation is also required to meet the needs of low-income residents as well as the elderly, the disabled and veterans,” Shepherd said. “A shorter LINK travel time is required for all passengers, and transportation services are required to meet the transportation needs of our population, especially shift workers. There is a loophole that has also been identified for door-to-door service for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Another loophole that needs to be filled are cheaper transport alternatives and options and / or funding to subsidize journeys other than the LINK, as well as programs to create ongoing nationwide awareness of transport options and access to available services. “

Recommendations for updating the 2020 plan by goHunterdon, the designated TMA approved by the county transport advisory board, include reviewing transport for travel outside the county and facilitating transfers with county systems in adjacent counties, as well as reviewing options for an early examination in the mornings, evenings and on weekends. Identifying transportation alternatives when schedules cannot be met could mean Hunterdon County subsidizing “ancillary services” like Lyft, Uber, or taxi rides for some of the county’s residents, primarily used to run Hunterdon County’s LINK service where and when to complete required.

According to Shepherd, the transportation plan is to look into funding for such ancillary services, possibly through state agencies or NJTPA.

A recommendation was developed for the district’s LINK buses to use the EcoLance shipping software in order to shorten travel times. Another goal is to improve the driving experience on the LINK, including the use of technology and the use of updated technologies to increase efficiency.

It also mentioned the potential to review the LINK system’s “curb to curb” policy and maintain relationships and communication with agencies for clients’ transportation needs and gather feedback. Demographics and driver numbers used to evaluate LINK operations are key to the 2020 update and TAC monitoring of the program.

The county HR department will continue to work with local nonprofit goHunterdon to provide “transportation coaching, outreach, and collaboration with available transportation services,” Shepherd said.

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