DeCamp Bus Lines Slammed With Complaints From Riders At Community Forum

BY  |  Thursday, May 01, 2014 6:34am  |  COMMENTS (26)

DeCamp Bus Lines Vice President Jonathan DeCamp (right) listens while DeCamp Comptroller Erwin Pantel (center) addresses the DeCamp community forum.

DeCamp Bus Lines Vice President Jonathan DeCamp (right) listens while DeCamp Comptroller Erwin Pantel (center) addresses the DeCamp community forum.

Responding to increasing criticism of its commuter service to and from New York, DeCamp Bus Lines participated in a community forum in Bloomfield on April 30 to get feedback from dissatisfied riders on a myriad of problems including but not limited to canceled buses, delays, insolent drivers, and surly dispatchers.

The meeting, held at Watching Presbyterian Church, was arranged  in part by Bloomfield Second Ward Councilman Nick Joanow after receiving complaints about DeCamp and learning that New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice and State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (both D-28th Dist.) had also heard from constituents about the issue.  Senator Rice was at the meeting, which was well-attended by DeCamp riders despite heavy rain,  while Assemblyman Caputo sent Rich Ferrugia, his deputy chief of staff, in his stead.  Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia also attended.

Jonathan DeCamp, vice president of DeCamp Bus Lines, read a statement in which he had heard the complaints from riders and said he heard them loud and clear.

“If there is one thing I want you guys to take away from this tonight, ” he said, “it’s that we care, we really do.  Our passengers are extremely important to us, and we want to try to get things corrected.”

DeCamp comptroller Erwin Pantel  followed with an analysis of the difficulties the company faces,  some due to internal problems and other s based on circumstances beyond its control.  He explained that several bus drivers have been dealing with medical problems or have been out on workers’ compensation, with anywhere from 17 top 20 percent of drivers being absent, and new hires hard to recruit and train.  The buses themselves, which are leased from the state via a federal subsidy, are aging faster than they can be replaced and are increasingly prone to breakdowns.  Pantel also said that the past winter has strained the fleet even more, while the closure of the Pulaski Skyway has had an adverse impact on traffic going into Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel.  Schedules have had to be adjusted accordingly.

“There’s never a day that we operate in the Lincoln Tunnel or through the Lincoln Tunnel that we don’t experience significant traffic,” Pantel said.

Many of the riders at the meeting were angry with lack of communication between the company and the riders, particularly with canceled buses that threw off people’s schedules and failure to inform riders via Twitter of evening rush delays.  Pantel had told the audience that a Global Position System (GPS) network to monitor progress on routes was looked at but was deemed too costly.  Riders scoffed at this, suggesting that a cell phone application could be created for DeCamp customers to subscribe to in order to keep tabs on buses.  Mr. DeCamp said he could look into that as a possibility.  DeCamp uses Twitter to convey delays of morning-rush buses.

Riders also complained about the drivers themselves, with rider J. Andrew Smith citing instances regarding, among other things, a female driver drinking hot coffee from a Thermos while navigating the helix into the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and elderly women who was not helped getting off a bus on a rainy day, and Smith’s own wife, nine months pregnant, almost losing her balance when the driver started the moment the couple and one person boarded the vehicle.

“Will you,” Smith asked Jonathan DeCamp, “fire drivers who don’t understand your great-grandfather’s definition of public service and replaced them with drivers who do?”

DeCamp urged riders to report the behavior of the drivers, along with the date and time and the bus numbers, so that the company can take punitive action.  Pat Johnson, a West Caldwell resident who takes the bus to get to his job as a New York City taxi driver, suggested that drivers have photo IDs clearly visible in the buses just as his is in his cab.

Senator Rice also said that reporting problems should be a priority, not just among bus riders but among DeCamp and other independent bus lines in the state, particularly regarding issues that the state is obligated to help with.  “I think it’s incumbent for DeCamp’s and others’ leadership, when they’re having problems  that need to be addressed somewhat by the legislature – if in fact we can address them, we don’t know until we hear about them – they should be in touch with us.”  Rice said he was displeased that he had to hear from elected officials rather than from DeCamp about problems that should have been addressed much earlier.

Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia (left) listens during the DeCamp community meeting while State Senator Ronald Rice (D-28th Dist.) takes notes.

Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia (left) listens during the DeCamp community meeting while State Senator Ronald Rice (D-28th Dist.) takes notes.

Some riders called for a renumbering of DeCamp’s historically double-numeric routes – there are three different #33 buses, two of which go between New York and West Caldwell by either Upper Montclair or Bloomfield and a third between New York and Montclair – to avoid confusion among commuters who use one route or another, while others called DeCamp to task for dispatchers unable or unwilling to relay bus information.  Pat Johnson also questioned the lack of open Academy Bus ticket windows, where DeCamp tickets are sold, at the bus terminal.  Pantel said that DeCamp, being too small to operate its own ticket windows in New York, relies on Academy  to transact ticket sales for them and has no ability to get Academy to open more.   Senator Rice said that, as a New Jersey company, Academy could be made to cooperate and open more windows to reduce wait times.

A major problem cited was the bus terminal itself, and how increasingly difficult it is for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to handle increased bus traffic in the 64-year-old facility.  Pantel told riders and re-iterated for Baristanet that the Port Authority is unable to open an inbound bus lane at the Lincoln Tunnel on afternoons to get more buses into the city for the outbound evening rush, citing the authority’s need to maintain an even flow of traffic and keep the tunnel safe during the evening rush hour.  The lack of available buses for outbound traffic has caused long lines at the DeCamp gates.

Former Montclair Councilor Don Zief, now chairman of the Montclair Transportation Advisory Committee, lamented that he only has one bus rider on his committee and has trouble getting more.  He noted that people prefer the bus over the train because bus lighting is better and riders tend to be more friendly with each other, but he feared that the ridership is dwindling because of DeCamp’s troubles.  Pantel vowed to do what he could to respond to riders’ concerns.

“We care about you,” he said.  “It’s not ‘us and them,’ you and us.’  We’re in this together, we really are.  We need you as much as you need us.”

26 Comments

  1. POSTED BY jasmith4  |  May 01, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    I’m J. Andrew Smith. The headline should be: “Feces Shoveled Liberally by Lucky-Sperm-Club Head’s Lackeys; Angry Public Wades Through”. Most useful tidbit: Email addresses! They told us about [email protected], which only ONE attendee knew before last night, but there’s also [email protected] and [email protected] — that’s the little pipsqueak Jonathan, barely 30 years old, who got his VP job just THIS YEAR! Pantel gave an oh-so-glowing endorsement of father Robert DeCamp — cares so much, so hands-on — so where the hell WAS he??

    There was one dispatcher, known as Terence, Anthony, or T-Bone, who was mentioned negatively at least four times: one rider said he called to ask where his bus is, T hung up on him, he called back, and T cursed both him and his mother. Another rider said she is afraid of him, and I personally know that drivers and riders alike hate him — yet young Jonathan DeCamp listens mainly to him. T deserves the sack and a sound thrashing for hours!

    Anyway, these meetings will be every six months, and I’ll be keeping my statistics (avg buses cancelled or delayed every day) up to date at https://home.comcast.net/~jasmith4/DecampTweets.xls (Excel 2003). Let’s see more turnout next time!

    This meeting’s video will be up on WBMA-TV, Bloomfield’s local-access cable (www.wbmatv.com), within a week.

  2. POSTED BY townie  |  May 01, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    Who would want to be Jonathan DeCamp walking into that meeting?

  3. POSTED BY huh_wha  |  May 01, 2014 @ 10:10 am

    Does anyone really think this is an “us versus them” situation, where DeCamp pathologically (and self-defeatingly) cares nothing for the satisfaction of its riders?

    Why not assume that they heard loud and clear that riders want more communication, better bus information, more ticket windows, etc.? Why not assume that if they know about misbehaving or discourteous drivers, they’ll deal with those drivers (no, not by firing any driver who is discourteous…what kind of hard-hearted and short-sighted idea is that?)?

    Why not assume that more productive discussions like this one, even a rider’s group that will have direct access to company management, will be more useful than anger and distrust?

    Maybe they’re sociopathic idiots who care nothing for their riders. Maybe they’re lying when they say they’re listening. In that case, there’s probably nothing to be gained by discussing it. Or, maybe they are facing hellish traffic conditions, constant severe weather, an aging leased fleet, a mixed bag of good and bad (and “sick”) drivers, and a lack of control over Academy Bus lines, the PABT, and other infrastructure providers, all while trying to make their fares attractive to riders. In which case, more talk and understanding helps everyone.

    Cue that Nick Lowe song.

  4. POSTED BY mrx5000  |  May 01, 2014 @ 11:16 am

    buses make good coral reefs.

  5. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 01, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

    The loyalty of Decamp customers is nothing short of mind boggling. I’ve spoken to a few folks who have transitioned to the train all of who have proclaimed “best decision ever” however far fewer are making the switch than one might expect given Decamp’s awful service record.

  6. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  May 01, 2014 @ 1:45 pm

    With the exception of the traffic, all of these excuses have solutions. People out sick? Have someone cover the route temporarily. I find it very difficult to believe that “new hires are hard to recruit and train.” In this job market? Surely, you jest. And train? We’re not asking them to find the cure for cancer, just drive a bus.

    Old buses? Make an effort to repair properly or replace.

    The weather? Yes, we had an awful winter but these complaints hold year round. The only reason that service may appear to be slightly better in the summer is that there is less traffic on the road from Memorial Day to labor Day. The lateness, surly drivers, lack of seats, et cetera, are not seasonal.

  7. POSTED BY crankydave  |  May 01, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

    I’ve been riding the #66 for 20+ years. Yes, there have been rude drivers, erratic schedules, and an aging fleet. I’ve also seen passengers who board the bus, with the ticket held in their teeth. And ones who climb aboard, and say merely “so, I guess the 6:25am is late again…”. And those who grouse about heat/cold; lights : “turn on the reading light…”. And one guy who photographed a driver, everyday, in order to force her to use her seatbelt.

    There’s room for improvement on all sides. And there are alternatives. and, for those who think NJT could do a better job, well, good luck when THEY go on strike.

  8. POSTED BY mike 91  |  May 01, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

    With the exception of the traffic, all of these excuses have solutions.

    Mrs. Martta, the root of these solutions is money. And, being my cynical self, I don’t see Decamp service ever changing because I can’t see them spending the money.

    There should be a clause in their exclusive right to own these routes where they have to divulge expenses and profits. Then if money is as tight as they keep saying it is, we’ll know.

    And stayhyphy, don’t you think if it would make sense for me to move to the train, I would have? Vast swaths of Baristaville have no choice, without spending more money than its worth to change (another car, for instance). Your repeated carping about us adds nothing to the discussion.

  9. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 01, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    “Vast swaths of Baristaville have no choice, without spending more money than its worth to change (another car, for instance).

    – So you do have a choice.

    “a clause in their exclusive right to own these routes where they have to divulge expenses and profits”

    – This is ignorant and unrealistic however even if such a clause existed or could be implemented and they were killing it what would you do about it if service was still terrible? You don’t get to tell a private company what their profit margins can be with respect to the service provided.

    “Your repeated carping about us adds nothing to the discussion.”

    – My carping? I’m pointing out what you can’t seem to understand. Decamp’s service is not poor enough yet to lose customers. It will improve only once it begins losing customers. Don’t be a sucker.

  10. POSTED BY mathilda  |  May 01, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    DeCamp’s buses are old and decrepit. Meanwhile, New Jersey has a surfeit of young, healthy deer. The solution is obvious: a merger between DeCamp and what we might call Essex County Deer Inc. DeCamp would be able to dispose of its aging fleet of buses and replace it with a fleet of powerful deer. Passengers would have chauffeur service into the city. The deer would be integrated into society and given health care and a living wage, fueling our local economy. And our atmosphere would have fewer carbon emissions. A win all round.

  11. POSTED BY jasmith4  |  May 01, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    huh_wha: DeCamp, like so many other transportation companies and government agencies, utility companies, etc., think they can suck as bad as they want, because there’s no alternative. So yes, it IS us vs, them: I’ve called to complain many times over the years, and NOTHING gets done — and that’s the answer to all your other questions: their past history of doing nothing.

    stayhyphy: I’m one who’d rather fight than switch. If I switch, I’m happy, but others are miserable, because DeCamp will continue to SUCK. I’d much rather stay with DeCamp so I have the right to complain all I want until they no longer suck or no longer exist. Call it twisted, but that’s my idea of public service.

    Mrs Martta: they even mentioned that technology is expensive, nascent and difficult — nothing could be further from the truth (gee, what a surprise)! And also, since buses are much heavier, and drivers specifically trained with their CDLs to drive them, they should handle bad weather much better, right?

    crankydave: You forget, sir, that WE pay THEM, not the other way around. It may not be nice, but we’re ALLOWED to be rude, and they’re NOT, because THEY are PUBLIC SERVANTS, and WE’RE the PUBLIC, i.e., the CUSTOMER.
    – DeCamp should put signs up saying “No tickets in your teeth”
    – If a bus is missing, the next one’s driver should field all complaints and take them back to the driver of the missing one — maybe that will cure absenteeism!
    – What’s the problem with a driver flipping a little switch?
    – Drivers are REQUIRED to wear seatbelts!

  12. POSTED BY jazumah  |  May 01, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

    Young Jonathan DeCamp is the future of DeCamp. To ignore him is to ignore the future. If any of the technology is going to be implemented, he is going to be doing it.

    DeCamp has no exclusive right to operate the service. It is simply that NJT won’t compete with them. Whether someone else wants to get in and compete will depend on the passenger base, but only the 33 and 66 has the size to sustain competition. To squeeze between DeCamp and NJT Rail is a tight squeeze.

  13. POSTED BY jazumah  |  May 01, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    Recruiting drivers is not easy. I am in the process of recruiting some now. One in four people expressing interest have actually filled out an application properly.

  14. POSTED BY PAZ  |  May 01, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

    and….the de-evolution continues.

  15. POSTED BY mike 91  |  May 01, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

    – So you do have a choice.

    I personally, do not. I gave an example. I understand your position, that hurting Decamp’s bottom line is the most effective tool we have. But again, if you think most Decamp riders would rather bitch than change, I don’t think that’s true. If I could, I would.

    This is ignorant and unrealistic however even if such a clause existed or could be implemented and they were killing it what would you do about it if service was still terrible?

    I thought that Decamp was granted some exclusivity. If that is untrue, they you’re right, we don’t have much leverage. It would only make their justifications as worthless as they already are.

    Decamp’s service is not poor enough yet to lose customers. It will improve only once it begins losing customers.

    Oh my goodness, that is difficult to understand! Thanks for explaining it to me. This is your only point. We get it.

  16. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 01, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    And everyone is forced to live in a location where they are hostage (even if in their own heads) to a particular transportation service, right?

    One thing is for sure, Decamp is actually leaving money on the table. They should raise ticket prices, demand seems pretty inelastic.

  17. POSTED BY complainerpuss  |  May 01, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

    After years riding DeCamp, I finally decided to switch to the train–even though the ride is considerably longer. What I won’t miss: the 33 Grove driver who goes ten miles under the speed limit the entire trip–except when he approaches the ramp onto the bus lane, or at the ramp into the Port Authority. Then he floors it, in hopes that riders will tumble out of their seats. And no matter where on Grove you wait for him, he pulls up either 15 feet in front of you or behind you. I complained to DeCamp countless times, to no avail.

  18. POSTED BY runnergal  |  May 01, 2014 @ 9:20 pm

    if decamp service is that terrible stop patronizing the company and get in your car and drive to the nearest train station and park your car on the street. it is that simple but people like to suffer just to have something to complain about.. people just don’t want to change their ways and take the path of least resistance. there are 9 train stations in this town..

  19. POSTED BY raynag  |  May 02, 2014 @ 10:06 am

    I left my previously beloved deCamp (beloved in the 1950’s and 60’s for its wonderful service0
    a couple of years ago, for NJ Transit. I grew up in Montclair and used to take either the 33 or the 88 to NY. They were always on time.

    When I moved to Livingston, I took the 77, which ultimately was sold to Community Coach.
    Now I live in West Orange. I used to drive to Upper Montclair to take the 66. It was so bad that 2 years ago I left deCamp for NJ Transit and now drive the 15 min to Willowbrook Mall, park for $2.00 and take one of the NY buses that comes every 20 minutes — including weekends.

    I agree those excuses are just that. You should lobby for NJ Transit to take over the 33 and 66 routes and you will have good service again!

  20. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 02, 2014 @ 10:43 am

    Good to hear from a few of those who are actually willing to take the only action that will ultimately lead to better service.

  21. POSTED BY deadeye  |  May 03, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    The beatings will continue until morale improves….

  22. POSTED BY paolo  |  May 04, 2014 @ 10:06 am

    One issue with driver retention is that NJ Transit has been hiring drivers, and pays more. DeCamp lost several drivers to NJT in 2013, and will probably lose more in the future. With garages in Wayne and Orange, that’s tough competition.

    Did anyone ask Mr DeCamp about the size of the reserve board (drivers available to fill in at the last moment)? I understand it may be half the size of the board in early 2013.

    Bus driving is tough work, and drivers have problems with arthritis, knees, circulatory and kidney etc issues. People will become disabled, that’s not a secret.

    But keeping an adequate reserve / extra driver boars is expensive, and it’s not something DeCamp wants to do. Even though folks are out on disability. Add in a few well paying charters and you’re short a few drivers.

    It’s not rocket science…

  23. POSTED BY crankydave  |  May 05, 2014 @ 8:24 am

    JAsmith. thanks for the reminder. I forgot that we’re entitled to be rude to ‘public servants’. (I assume that means the police that keep you safe and the teachers that educate your children.) Unfortunately, much of the conversation around DeCamp takes a classist turn like this. common decency, it seems, has been thrown off the bus.

  24. POSTED BY 796brg  |  May 05, 2014 @ 9:06 am

    I respectfully submit the following comments:
    I ride the 33 to / from Caldwell to PABT…..for 15 years
    Most drivers are fine, very professional and highly skilled and I tip my hat to them for what they do, day in and day out…..I couldn’t do it.
    BUT, I have encountered 2 or 3 drivers that were rude, nasty & vindictive ON A DAILY BASIS……and I’ve written to DeCamp about them, and it’s taken a while….but I don’t see them anymore.
    Many, many, many of the seats are broken. BAD SEAT DESIGN, a more permanent, higher quality innovative FIX is req’d.
    Many, many, many times the drivers don’t put on the reading lights on, so I’m the guy that yells from the back of the bus.
    Most days the drivers roast us or they freeze us. The drivers don’t seem to care about temp control or reading lights and I think they don’t recognize that lights and comfort are part of their job, not just driving.

    If the Heat or AC is broken, they don’t tell you as your boarding the bus, so you have the option of waiting for the next bus, or suffering through it.

    The buses are clean, thank you !

    Mechanically and from a safety perspective, I think the buses are well maintained. Breakdowns do happen, but they’re rare and with the portable radios, I think DeCamp tries hard to complete the trip.

    As info, the huge ads on the outside of the bus do block my view, do block the natural light and I resent riding in a billboard after paying $6.67 for a ticket (sorry).

    Many reading lights are broken, and its annoying.

    I’ve had more bad experiences with the dispatcher, than good ones.

    Many of the air vent nozzles are broken (So, I stuff parts of my newspaper in the holes).

    Most times, the 3 dispatchers at the PABT “hide” outside when buses are delayed…..Riders understand delays, but can’t they just come in and tell us what’s going on…….they come inside and yell “LAST CALL” when they want to fill up a bus.

    I have written letters to DeCamp, numerous times, about all of the above issues, BUT NOTHING CHANGES and no effort to improve seems evident, communication with riders IS extremely poor and I’ve found that DeCamp overall has an excuse for every problem and this what we riders don’t like.

  25. POSTED BY Duke  |  May 05, 2014 @ 10:52 am

    I agree, 90% of the drivers are very professional and safe, but it’s the 10% who end up coloring our experience and making it so difficult to appreciate the hard work that goes into maintaining the system.

  26. POSTED BY jasmith4  |  October 30, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

    This is Andy Smith. Please allow me to give you readers some history on this issue, for I’m the one who started these meetings in the first place. You see, back in the fall of 2013 I stumbled onto DeCamp’s Twitter feed, @DeCampBusLines as well as an unofficial one, @DeCampBusRider — there has recently come another one, @DeCampWaitLines. I say “stumbled”, because DeCamp never publicized it much at all: I had to actively search for “decamp” on Twitter to find the above three accounts.

    Anyway, I not only started to follow @DeCampBusLines but get notifications on my phone at its every tweet, and every day I got several tweets, usually about buses cancelled. This continued for months, and I said to myself, good God, how can DeCamp call itself a bus company and have so many cancelled buses? And there were two in particular, the 7:40 from West Caldwell and the 6:50 out of Crown View, that it seems were cancelled just about every day.

    So, computer programmer and detail-stickler that I am, I took the trouble to download EVERY SINGLE TWEET from the feed’s birth on May 24, 2013 until a day before the April 30 meeting. I applied to them some text-parsing to determine which buses were cancelled every day, broke it down by week and struck daily averages per week o0f cancelled buses. My complete analysis, with a complete list of every tweet straight from the source, is at https://home.comcast.net/~jasmith4/DecampTweets.xls

    It shows some appalling numbers: the second week of February, 2014 they had 4.4 buses cancelled, on the average, EVERY DAY. OK, that was in a hellacious winter, but two of their worst weeks were between June 9 and 21 of 2013, during the SUMMER, when 3.3 buses PER DAY were cancelled! From May 24 to the end of 2013 the overall average was 1, and then from Jan 1, 2014 until April 29 the overall average was 2.3. Imagine: at least two buses cancelled EVERY DAY.

    So anyway, now that I had empirical data, I took the trouble to state from https://www.state.nj.us, find the web site of EVERY TOWN DeCamp “serves”, got Email addresses of every mayor, every town administrator, every DOT head, and every ward’s councilman or -woman in all those towns — about 100 Email addresses in all — and I sent them a letter of complaint along with the above spreadsheet line. I also sent same to Assemblyman Caputo, Senator Rice and Assemblywoman Tucker. And it was Joanow, 2nd-Ward Councilman of Bloomfield, who took the bull by the horns and started this SERIES of meetings on April 30. The video is at (https://vp.telvue.com/preview?id=T00304&video=195251), and you can find articles about that meeting here too.

    So this time around (Oct 22), having been slammed hard by yours truly and MANY others, DeCamp 1) decides not to show up; 2) doesn’t inform anyone of this decision until a week ahead of time; 3) tells its receptionists and drivers first to say it’s cancelled, then to say it doesn’t exist; 4) hired a “public relations director”, Lee Brigham, who has no phone extension or decamp.com Email address (!) to accuse Joanow of election tactics and boast that they’ll have a meeting on their own terms when WE decide, thank you very much! There’s even supposed to be some riders’ advisory board. Really? Meanwhile they never post their Email address ([email protected]) or their Twitter feed (see above).

    Do you know how expensive public relations directors are? That’s the extent to which they’ll go to NOT hear from the public. That’s the kind of money they have as they cry about how much the union forces their drivers’ wages so high. THAT’S THE KIND OF PEOPLE THEY ARE.

    So why don’t I switch? Well, I do get a bus when I need it, I do have a great regular driver (Millie on the 7:40 32 from Nutley), there are several others, and I’d rather fight than switch. I also consider it selfish to simply up and leave while drivers and other riders suffer with a bus company that still sucks, and I also don’t want to lose the right to complain about them by not patronizing them. I enjoy it, and they deserve it.

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