Refrigerators, stoves and buses
A Journey into New Jersey
A few years back your gas and electric man might have been a bus driver too.
Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact is that the company now known as PSE&G was once known as Public Service, and in the 20th century they not only provided energy but also engaged in mass transit too.
The Public Service Corporation was formed in 1903, by amalgamating 400 gas, electric and transportation companies. Public Service’s transit assets in those early years included ferry and trolley services, as well as elevators transporting horse carts up the Palisades. According to a PSE&G history, in 1916 Public Service provided more than 451 million passenger trips on its trolleys alone.
Back then it was common for the same company to own both an electrical generating plant and a network of trolleys powered by that plant. Some also owned amusement parks at the end of the trolley lines.
Over time Public Service came to consolidate its gas and electric holdings into Public Service Electric and Gas. Transportation came to be known as Public Service Coordinated Transport. Both divisions, though, shared the same corporate logo.
In 1917 a subsidiary company New Jersey Transportation Co. was the first to provide bus service – the route ran from Tenafly to Camp Merritt, major camp for World War I troops (now the site of the Cresskill circle). By the mid-1920's the company, as did many, began the gradual conversion of streetcar lines to bus lines. In time, it would come to dominate bus travel in the state and across the rivers into New York and Pennsylvania.
An exception to that trend was the route that is now the Newark City Subway.
The bus fleet was a mix of varied types of buses that came with acquired companies but it wasn't until the late 1920's that PSTC began updating the fleet with a mix of various manufacturers and body types.
The 1930's saw the development of the "All Service Vehicles" which could run as a trolley bus under wires or as a regular bus without electricity. However, with the advent of the diesel-powered bus, the ASV's became superfluous and PS began ordering strictly diesels.
General Motors buses became the standard for most of the company's operations by the late 1940's. By that time the company distinguished its two main divisions as Public Service Coordinated Transport and Public Service Interstate Transport. The latter operated with GM's luxury parlor coaches, usually an amenity reserved for Greyhound passengers.
But with steadily dwindling ridership since the end of the Second World War, Public Service had to struggle to keep customers, constantly fine-tuning service in some areas and eliminating in others. Public Service updated its fleet again in the 1960's as the General Motors "new look" buses arrived on the scene.
In the early 1970's, Public Service ceased as an identity as the company's name was changed to Transport Of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department Of Transportation entered the picture as a contractor of subsidized bus routes, to be operated by TNJ and others using equipment owned by the state D.O.T.
Public Service’s connection to transportation ended in 1980 when it sold its transportation assets to the State of New Jersey in what would become what today is largely controlled by New Jersey Transit Bus Operations, which falls under the purview of the N.J.D.O.T.
But in its time Public Service was the real deal and it was everywhere. Its presence was a cultural one as well. For example, it was also a famous for being the bus company providing service to Palisades Amusement Park (Listen to a classic 1060’s radio ad for Palisades Amusement Park touting its accessibility via Public Service buses)
It was also fixture at places such as Newark’s Penn Station, Journal Square, Atlantic City, Philadelphia’s Market Street and New York’s 168th Street Bus Terminal (Across from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital). It was New Jersey's First Statewide Bus System.
As late as the 1960’s, various commuter and local bus lines traveled the state’s roads. They were are diverse and colorful lot – ranging from the Orange and Black Lines with routes through towns along the Palisades, the blue and yellow of the Asbury Park-Long Branch & New York buses (now Academy), Somerset’s Purple buses along the “Blue Start Route”, the bright green and orange of DeCamp, the Orange and Brown of the Inter-City Lines and the Red and Tan Lines. Today only the DeCamp buses are still to be seen as independent bus lines (although Red & Tan are now part of Coach USA). But all were dwarfed by the omni-present Public Service buses to be found in city suburb and long distance routes within the State.
Today Public Service is recalled at transit museums and among bus fans. Of course, the name Public Service still lives in electric and gas and can be found among our monthly bills. There are even a few stray street poles where the remnants of an old painted Public Service bus stop sign can still be faintly seen.
Interestingly, the Newark City Subway – that remaining relic of the trolley era- is now leading the way in innovation in mass transit. Now called the Newark Light Rail, it is cornerstone to a system that has recently expanded.
While many buses run those same lines under the NJ Transit banner, few passengers riding these days likely are to be aware there even had been a Public Service Transport – mass transit for another time and age – a time when transit and electricity were packaged and sold together.