For 153 years, DeCamp Bus Lines has provided commuter service in New Jersey.
“We started with a horse and buggy providing service from Roseland to Newark, New Jersey, to the first motorized buses, to where we are today with the brand-new, beautiful-looking MCI coaches,” said Jonathan R. DeCamp, the company’s vice president.
That historic service – that no takes passengers from New Jersey to New York City – will come to an end next month. DeCamp Bus Lines announced that its commuter service will end April 7, a move that generated headlines in national publications such as New York Times and Bloomberg News. The company has provided transportation services for northeast New Jersey since 1870.
“I can’t speak for the industry as a whole. I just know that our commuter services were no longer viable. So the change was kind of forced upon us,” DeCamp said. “We rely on those daily commuters, and since the beginning of the pandemic where the message was stay home, we have not seen the rebounds in the passengers commuting on a daily basis to New York City.”
Before the pandemic, DeCamp’s commuter service carried roughly 6,800 passengers a day. Now, that average has dropped down to about 1,300 passengers.
DeCamp Bus Lines’ commuter services operated from northeast New Jersey to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.
Never recovered from pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns were put into effect by New Jersey and the city of New York in March 2020, the company said it did everything it could to avoid suspending service, even in the face of a 97% loss in ridership. However, it did stop service on March 24.
The company returned with limited service on June 8, 2020, anticipating an increase in ridership as New Jersey and New York began to reopen. But the return of ridership never materialized, and DeCamp suspended service again on Aug. 7, 2020, and reinstated it in 2022.
But DeCamp said the passengers still haven’t returned in big enough numbers for the company to sustain operations without relief from the federal or state government.
Private carriers shut out from help
While the CARES Act directed $1.4 billion in Federal Transit Administration funding to New Jersey, that amount has been allocated only to NJ Transit, leaving private carriers such as DeCamp without a similar lifeline.
Private carriers account for an estimated 35% of the scheduled bus service in New Jersey, based on passenger miles, and their operations help to generate FTA funding for the state.
“It’s disappointing that we cannot access relief funds that would enable us to continue to serve our passengers and to provide jobs for our employees,” the company statement said.
DeCamp has exhausted all of the financial resources it had available, including stretching its Paycheck Protection Program funds from the expected eight weeks into 17 weeks.
Without access to the federal CARES Act funding or the passage of the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act, the company had no choice except to suspend service again now until passenger volumes return to a sustainable level.
“The transit agencies received a lot of money during the initial Cares Act, and continue to maintain full service and full staff, while the private motorcoach industry was left to fend for themselves,” said DeCamp.
“The process was a lot of internal debate, but the fact is our commuter operations weren’t generating enough revenue to cover their operating expenses, and you can only lose money for so long. It’s not sustainable,” DeCamp said. “Funds from PPP and CERTS Act allowed us to put that service out there in hopes of rebuilding the commuter services, but it just has not materialized.”
New business model
The most difficult part of DeCamp’s decision is not being able to transport the passengers who depend on the service to get to work.
“They are disheartened or worried about how they’re going to get into the city, and I feel for them, because for decades we have been providing that service,” said DeCamp. “But economically, we just can’t keep on running the service without financial support.”
The difficult decision is going to mean a new business model for the business.
“Historically, we’ve always been a commuter service operation with a smaller charter business. Now moving forward, the charter business is going to have to sustain them to complete operations. So it’s gonna be a learning curve,” said DeCamp. “It’s still early. It’s going to be evolving as we move forward.”
The new business model will require downsizing the company’s fleet.
DeCamp is a sixth-generation employee who joined the business in 2007.
“The business has definitely changed a lot over the last years, and it’s especially been difficult during COVID,” he said. “We’re finally getting back to the groups traveling and schools moving again. We are seeing demand increase on the tourist side.”