FreeB was launched in 2008 with the support of the University. It makes multiple stops at various locations in town, including Princeton Station, Palmer Square, and Princeton Shopping Center. FreeB originally had two different shuttles, one designated as a commuter bus and the other a neighborhood bus.
Opponents of the new schedule argue that it only benefits those who had previously ridden the neighborhood bus.
“[The Council] tell us they increased services but since for us [commuter bus passengers] it has decreased, we aren’t sure where it has increased,” visiting postdoctoral research scholar Fernanda Sofio Woolcott said.
Compared to the previous neighborhood schedule, the new schedule expands service hours. The had previously began its day at 9:30 a.m., but now the overall service day begins at 6 a.m., according to Jenny Crumiller, council liaison for the Public Transit Advisory Committee. Similarly, the neighborhood bus had usually ended its service with a last stop at 4:30 p.m. Now the service ends approximately at 8:15 p.m., Crumiller said.
“The new schedule really doesn’t allow us to use the bus as much as we would like to,” one town resident, Isabelle Chu, said.
Chu explained that when she leaves New York and arrives at the Dinky Station at 6 p.m., she and the other passengers have to wait at least 12 minutes before the FreeB leaves. In that time, no new passengers board the bus.
In the morning, she can’t go to New York as early as she wanted to, as the trips to the rail station that serviced commuters before 6 a.m. were cancelled.
Another town resident, Li Chen, stopped taking the FreeB about two months after the new schedule was in effect.
She said that the FreeB commute service is decent in the morning, but horrible in the evening. Like Chu, Chen complained about having to wait around 10 minutes for the bus that departs from the Dinky Station in the evenings.
Crumiller noted that the times chosen for bus stops at the Dinky Station were the ones that historically had the highest ridership.
“We had that service in the morning, and we thought it was a good idea when we started it,” continued Crumiller. “We wanted it to work, but it turns out very few people wanted that service.”
According to Crumiller, the new schedule and route were “based on ridership data in an attempt to increase ridership.” Crumiller noted that ridership for the commuter bus has gradually declined in the past year, while more and more riders were traveling via the neighborhood bus.
In ridership data obtained by The Daily Princetonian, 2017 saw an average of 690 riders using the commuter bus every month. This was a sharp decrease from 2016, which saw an average of 893 users riding the commuter bus per month.
Total passengers had decreased from 10,720 to 8,275 riders from 2016 to 2017. In comparison, the number of passengers who ride the neighborhood bus has been consistently increasing in the past few years, approaching 25,000 total passengers.
“The numbers were really pointing to have the neighborhood route, to extend that, because that’s where the demand was,” Crumiller explained in an interview with the ‘Prince.’
In a follow-up email to the ‘Prince,’ Crumiller wrote that the bus has now begun “serving the stops in the vicinity of Redding Circle and Princeton Community Housing earlier in the morning” to allow passengers to go to Princeton Shopping Center and downtown.
However, the main issue for opponents of the new schedule is the lack of communication that occured between the Council and passengers regarding the schedule changes.
Woolcott alleges that the decision was made without passenger or driver input. Chu said that she and other passengers were, more or less, kept in the dark about the changes as they were being made. Chu only first heard about the new schedule from the bus driver, and when she and other frustrated passengers voiced their concerns at a town council meeting, she claims that their opinions weren’t taken into account.
Woolcott echoed a similar sentiment, claiming that neither passengers nor drivers were consulted when making this decision to change the schedule.
Crumiller noted in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that the decision was made based on “compelling” and “reliable” ridership data as well as surveys and additional passenger feedback.
Chu did note that a survey was distributed regarding potential changes to the schedule. But she said that it wasn’t a fair poll, because from her perspective, the bus service was not terribly well-known in the first place.
“Sure, they can say that there are only six passengers,” said Chu, “but more people would take [the bus] if they knew about it.”
Chu said that the lack of knowledge about the FreeB is unfortunate because the bus is free and has great potential to be more efficient.
In response to the issue of supposed poor communication, Crumiller said that the town had posted the new schedule in the bus for a month and distributed flyers to passengers. The driver also made announcements, and decisions regarding the new schedule were posted on social media and sent in press releases to various news outlets.
Woolcott emphasized that, although she does not wholeheartedly support the revised schedule, she is open to improvements to the FreeB bus.
“I’m a big fan of public transportation. It promotes diversity, includes everyone,” continued Woolcott. “The idea is that it gets improved but not that it gets jeopardized or decreased in any way.”