Bargain Bus Rides - Newark School Students and Public Service Transportation

by Barbara L. Rothschild


One of the advantages of suburban living today, is the ready access of students to transportation by local school bus. However, back in the day, Newark students had no such available convenience other than to use the public bus services, run under the auspices of the Public Service Gas and Electric Company. In New Jersey today, bus transportation and all other convenient means of travel are now run by the New Jersey Transit Authority.

It is odd to think that Public Service not only supplied gas and electric service to all Newark city homes, but that it was this same utility company that held the key to travel in comfort during inclement weather for all Newark Public School Students. More often, the way to get to school in the morning was to use one's own leg power. However, during those frosty and slushy winter mornings, it was a welcome blessing to be able to board a warm city bus, which would more then likely deposit the students immediately in front of the school building, or if not, at least at a designated bus stop within a short walking distance from the school. What a welcome alternative to arriving at school in a wet, frozen and wind blasted manner!

One of the conveniences of being a Newark school student back in those days, was the bargain accessibility of purchased bus tickets, which would enable the student to ride the buses at a fraction of the cost of a regular fare. Many students not only availed themselves of these tickets to arrive at their school in the morning, but these tickets would also be usable at the close of the school day, for outside school activities, such as dental appointments, religious training, athletic events, music lessons, and anything one could think of as an extracurricular activity. As I recall it, I believe these cut rate bus tickets could be used up to six o'clock in the evening, thereafter they would not be honored by the bus driver. Each month, I recall the tickets would be of a different color, when purchasing a new booklet.

The student bus tickets would be bought in the form of a booklet, purchased only at the Public Service Utility Company on Broad Street, opposite Military Park. There was nowhere else within the city limits at all where the tickets might have been purchased. The value of each ticket was approximately two and a half cents, since the full passenger fare in the 1950's was ten cents, later increased to (!) fifteen cents! At that time, the price of each individual student ticket increased, I believe, to a whopping (!) whole nickel, which in turn fostered many complaints and rumblings by mothers! The student would be required to write their full name, name of the school, which was the destination, and the date of travel on each individual ticket, for each individual trip usage. Upon boarding the bus, while adult passengers dropped their coin fares into a spinning coin box, the students would merely hand the bus driver the reduced fare bus ticket, tearing it out of a booklet which held around a total of thirty tickets; however, I cannot be certain of the exact number at this time. Many a student suffered the ire of a bus driver, because some of the kids would not fill out the required information. It was rare for a bus driver, however, to refuse admittance to a child, but nonetheless, after a bad day of dealing with the general public, sometimes the most pleasant driver would reach his bursting point, and unload his frustration on a lazy kid, who merely did not take the time to properly fill in the required information.

I recall one of the nicer features was that the tickets were transferable, that is, from one bus to another, if the student, for whatever reason, had to take two bus lines to get to a destination. What a bargain that was for two and a half cents a pop! Or even a whole nickel, for that matter, compared with today's costs of living! Only back in those days, and nevermore thereafter!

Since one could also pay their utility bill at the Public Service building, mother would usually combine her downtown shopping trip by once a month paying our utility bill and purchasing a book of student bus tickets for me at the same time. I recall going with mother on several of these occasions. One would approach the ticket window at Public Service, which at that time resembled a bank teller's cage, bars separating the customer from the service representative, and bills were paid in this manner. The bus tickets could then be requested for sale at that time as well. I recall returning back home, sitting at our formica kitchen table, mother making sure I properly filled out all information on each ticket, of course, done in pencil and my childish scrawl. I recall how proud it made me to fill out these little forms repetitively, when I learned to write in cursive, each ticket striving for more perfection in my handwriting. ( These were also the days when Penmanship was a school subject!) I would never be one of the scolded children, who would aggravate those poor harried bus drivers! Mother would simply not have that, nor permit such behavior at all, and I was a very obedient child!

As a small child, I would enjoy trips to Public Service, because on the way to the teller's cage, one would have to walk past any number of the latest natural gas and electrical appliances for sale, displayed on the floor.>From coffee urns to toasters, but mostly the latest in specifically natural gas appliances, overwhelmingly which were stoves, refrigerators, and water heaters and major appliances. I cannot recall any of the larger appliances being electric, since such electric usage at the time, was outweighed primarily by the more common usage of natural gas in the home. All electric homes simply did not exist until the advent of the mid 1960's, but went out of style in the early 1970's, with the advent of the ever rising cost of electric usage. I recall going to the 1964 New York's World Fair, when General Electric presented the "home of the future", featuring all electric living, and it was a wonder to see and experience. Especially featured was the kitchen of the future, which I am sure dazzled many a housewife.

I guess it was the Public Service's subliminal way of suggesting the purchase of these up-to-the-minute- conveniences to mostly the housewives who came to pay the family's utility bills. Since Public Service was in the business of supplying electricity and gas, sales of such appliances were readily promoted. It was difficult not to pass these appliances without a sales representative attempting to entice a bill paying customer,( I suspect they were paid on commission to sell these major appliances,) but mother and I hurriedly sidestepped these fast talking sales reps, because we were not financially able to invest in any of these modern conveniences. Besides that, we lived in an apartment building which was at the time when most such residences supplied, included in the monthly rental fee, the use of a stove and refrigerator, (I recall it was an Admiral brand). In the basement of the building was a coin operated Bendix washing machine, but there never was a dryer, only a hand operated clothes wringer, available for exclusive usage by tenants of the apartment building.

One of my early childhood mysteries was where the door within Public Service Utility led to? What lay behind those doors? At that time, the Newark Subway included a stop right inside the Public Service Utility Building, but since we never rode the subway, I never unraveled the mystery until much later, of finding out what lay beyond those swinging doors. To my childhood imagination, the subway entrance remained a mystical portal to an unknown world, which would forever remain unexplained to me by mother, but nevertheless open to wonderous childhood speculations! Ironically, the entrance/exit to and from the subway would also be in the vicinity of the bright and shiny new major appliances, again, to entice the entering/exiting public, to stop and take a peak at what wonders those modern and efficient appliances offered.

I do not recall if there was an age limitation for the use of the student bus tickets, only that I made frequent use of them especially in the wintertime, with most neighborhood children doing the same. However, I recall using them up until the point of my high school days. It was truly a welcome convenience, which made the routine trip to school an interesting one, as well as the thrill of a "grown up" experience, and often it was fun to ride together with friends, while taking in the sights of the city and its people, and gleefully sharing in childhood gossip and current events going on in the neighborhood and surrounding areas.

I do not recall when the usage of bargain student tickets were discontinued, only that it was for most of us growing up in that era, a happy and pleasant experience in our young lives. What a way to go!!!

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