Today’s Headlines

  • Cuomo Won’t Meet Foxx and Christie to Discuss Gateway Tunnel (Bloomberg)
  • Turning Bus Driver Seriously Injures Man in Flushing; “No Charges Were Immediately Filed” (News, Post)
  • Driver Faces Manslaughter Charges After Allegedly Killing Passenger During Police Chase (DNA)
  • Tony Avella Leaves His District to Oppose Plaza Supported by Rival Senator (Q Chron)
  • News and AMNY Slam MTA Over DiNapoli’s Report Showing Deteriorating On-Time Performance
  • Dollar Van Drivers Fear Lancman and Miller’s Reform Bill — But Uber? What’s Uber? (TL)
  • More Coverage of Levine’s Curbside Car-Share Bill from Crain’s
  • Ghost of DCP’s Fourth Avenue Urban Design Disaster Looms Over de Blasio’s Rezoning (Crain’s)
  • DOT Posts Annual Open Call for Artists to Spruce Up Drab Concrete Barriers (DNA)
  • Ask the Daily News: Will My Repeat DUI Arrests Prevent Me From Becoming a U.S. Citizen?
  • Tomorrow Is the Last Summer Streets of 2015 (Downtown Express)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • The “dollar vans” should never have been legalised, and should be put out of business as soon as possible. They are nothing more than pirates who are stealing from the public by siphening off funds that would otherwise go to the MTA.

    A goofball called “Erwin”, who is quoted in the Times Ledger piece, says, “Who gonna take these people to Rosedale? The MTA? Ha!” That’s right, Erwin (who most likely doesn’t give his last name for a good reason: because he doesn’t want to get caught driving without a licence); the MTA would in fact be taking people to Rosedale and to several other destinations if not for you and your fellow thieves.

    The dollar vans prevent the expansion of the legitimate bus network by depressing the ridership numbers on the existing bus lines in southeastern Queens. If not for the distorting influence caused by the vans, there would be documented demand for more service on existing bus lines and for the creation of additional lines. The dollar van swindlers thus make it impossible for the MTA to do the job that it’s meant to do; they satisfy a “demand” that they themselves create.

    Furthermore, these vans are uninspected deathtraps that are driven in a hazardous manner by unqualified and unlicenced maniacs. They are a menace to their own passengers and to the public at large. We need to get rid of them at once.

  • Jeff

    The Tony Avella interview is hilarious. It really encapsulates the whole “windshield perspective”. The way he speaks literally sounds like something a motorist would shout out of their window because they were mad they couldn’t drive their car fast enough or something.

  • BBnet3000

    I wouldn’t lump them all together. The MTA is never going to run jitney style, and a traditional fixed bus route between, for instance, Sunset Park and Flushing would be a huge money loser.

    I’m not saying they couldn’t use better regulation as well as compensating the city for the use of street space. Judging by the dollar vans at Jay and Livingston alone many drivers need remedial driving instruction as well as a formal ban on catcalling by for-hire drivers.

  • vnm

    Upon learning of the plaza, Avella’s reaction is to think about just one of the many impacts: how cars drivers will have to turn later instead of earlier. He doesn’t give any consideration to how it will open up opportunities for business or for neighborhood residents to enjoy their own neighborhood. (Apparently he’d rather have outsiders flying through it in cars, causing congestion.) And calling people “idiots” and “asinine” isn’t really very becoming. I hope someone challenges this guy in the next primary. Kudos to Stavisky’s press person for forcefully standing up to this idiotic asinine blowhard.

  • This is specifically about Jamaica and points southeast towards the City line, areas currently served by the routes Q3, 4, 5, 83, 84, and 85. (The Q83, 84, and 85 used to be the Q3A, 4A, and 5A, respectively.) If ridership numbers on those lines exploded, new lines could easily be created in response. They could run either on the same avenues that carry the current lines, or on any of the many avenues that do not currently have bus lines.

    But, as long as the dollar vans exist, we’ll never have that documented rise in ridership which would spur the creation of additional bus lines.

  • Cuomo is no idiot. He has clearly made a shrewd political calculation that more trouble in the Hudson rail tunnels is better for NY at the expense of NJ. There’s a widening gulf between real estate prices on the East and West banks of the Hudson, and a big part of the reason for that gap is the difficulty of crossing the Hudson. Make it easier to cross and real estate prices on both sides will converge.

  • com63

    I think Cuomo and Christie are trying to pretend they don’t care so that the Feds will pick up a greater share of the cost.

  • Bolwerk

    I prefer a pirate who moves six people per vehicle to a thief who moves only himself. But I’m still waiting for the USA to get a legitimate pirate party :-O

    I’ve never seen an ounce of defensible evidence saying dollar vans hurt buses. Smaller vehicles step in where buses are too big to provide frequent service. They can go places buses don’t go too, like suburban cul-de-sacs.

    Like, enough with transit tribalism. Almost any vehicle has its uses.

  • ddartley

    The “police chase” in item 3 is dubious. It may have been a police chase, but none of the reports I saw firmly establish that. I say this as someone who vehemently opposes motor vehicle pursuits; I want to avoid crying wolf.

  • Jesse

    The police at least seem to think that’s what happened. I doubt there would be any charges for just recklessness (or even super-recklessness as the case here). The only thing that gets you noticed by the NYPD if you are behind the wheel of a car is if you dare to defy their authority.

  • Kevin Love

    The dollar van owners are cherry-picking off the most
    profitable piece of transit demand. And, of course, dumping the rest onto on MTA. The profitable demand is then not available to cross-subsidize the rest of MTA operations.

    Quite often these people use unsafe vehicles and uninsured
    and/or unlicensed drivers.

    I would suggest that perhaps the MTA should run a franchise
    program. Legalize the dollar vans, but they have to be inspected, insured, etc. And, most importantly, pay a franchise fee to MTA to capture the value that is otherwise being lost.

  • The problem is not that they’re vans as opposed to buses. The problem is that the fly-by-night operators of private dollar vans exist in the shadows, and are answerable to no one. They function in an environment of cutthroat competition, such that they are profoundly disincentivised to spend on maintenence.

    The MTA is our public agency charged with providing mass transit. It is responsible for purchasing and maintaining vehicles, and for hiring and training drivers. Its scheduling policies are determined at public hearings into which the communities have input. Its leadership is answerable to the governor (despite the current governor’s outrageously mendacious denial of this fact) and therefore to the electorate. To enable large-scale circumventing of this agency in favour of rogue operators is bad public policy.

    I have argued that the creation of additional MTA bus routes is the appropriate response to the need to transport people from the Jamaica transit hub to the communities southwest of Jamaica. But, even if one were to contend that vans are the best means for transporting people in that section of the City, there is nothing stopping the MTA from creating its own fleet of van transport. The agency could maintain the vehicles properly, and could staff them with qualified professional drivers, in accordance with its mission.

    The unregulated use of broken-down vehicles whose brakes and steering barely work, and which are driven by untrained and incompetent drivers, is most definitely not in the public interest.

  • Bolwerk

    All those problems in the first paragraph can be fixed with regulation. I think many are even taxi operators who, in fact, are licensed and regulated. Some of them do things like offer last mile service to train riders.

    They should have to take Metrocard and share revenue with the TA. But I don’t see any reason to outright ban a service that (1) could be useful and (2) probably would be immensely out of place in the MTA.

  • I don’t say that these vans should just be banned and that the people who use them should be left without any service whatsoever. Those riders’ needs should be met by legitimate public transit, namely the additional bus routes that would already exist if not for the influence of the vans over the past couple of decades.

    Kevin Love suggests that the van services could be franchised — they’d pay a fee to the MTA, and they’d have to submit to inspection and have insurance. I doubt that there actually are van operators that are organised enough to be able to do this; but if there are, then great. Throw in the use of trained drivers who are TWU members and who are paid the same as bus drivers, and this might work.

    The goals are to recover the fare revenue that is bleeding out of the public coffers and into the pockets of questionable private entities, and to ensure that the vehicles are in good repair and are being operated safely. Either of these approaches (an MTA unit, or contractors licenced/franchised by the MTA and subject to MTA rules) would accomplish this.

    But it would be preferable to have an in-house MTA fleet. What happens when one of the private franchisees goes out of business? Do those rides just disappear? More likely the MTA would step in and operate them temporarily. Just make it permanent — if we are going to have vans, the MTA should operate them.

    And there’s no reason to suggest that vans would be out of place in an agency that already operates modes as disparate as buses, subways, electric railroads, and diesel railroads.

    But to claim that the current state of affairs is acceptable is erroneous.

  • Kevin Love

    “What happens when one of the private franchisees goes out of business?”

    If it is profitable, then someone else will step in. Just like if New York’s taxi king Gene Freidman goes bankrupt, every single one of those yellow cabs will still be on the street the next day. See:

    http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/07/31/428157211/episode-643-the-taxi-king

  • Joe R.

    The problem here is the type of service offered by the dollar vans would be at odds with what the MTA is used to doing. They’re using to running buses on fixed routes. Given the number of passengers these buses carry, it’s feasible to pay the drivers union pay and benefits. If the MTA tried to operate van service, it would probably fail logistically. There would be a huge increase in the number of vehicles needing to be serviced. These vehicles would be different than what they’re used to servicing. These vehicles are also inherently a lot less reliable than transit buses. If anything, large agencies like the MTA have demonstrated over the years that they’re really not all that great dealing with something new or different. Heck, we don’t even have lower off-peak fares like many other places do, even though this would be perfectly feasible with the existing Metrocard system.

    Economically, it would be a huge money pit which would absorb hundreds of millions of dollars, even more, to service a minority of riders. For a great example of this, look at Access-A-Ride. The vans are unreliable, they cost the MTA in excess of $50 per passenger to operate. And honestly they’re driven just as poorly as the dollar vans, even worse in cases. Besides that, their exhaust fumes stink.

    I’m not sure I like the dollar vans any more than you. Yes, they’re a road hazard operating by incompetent drivers. Yes, they’re a danger even to their own passengers. However, I’m just not seeing any real alternative other than perhaps getting bike share to these areas. Even so, bike share couldn’t serve those unable or unwilling to ride. You would still have a niche which the dollar vans would fill.

  • Joe R.

    Remember though that this service is only profitable because:

    1) You have a ready supply of labor willing to work for $10 or $15 an hour thanks to the shortage of decent jobs

    2) The vans aren’t properly maintained

    3) The drivers drive like crazy to service as many passengers in as short a period of time.

    Replace these with properly maintained, safely driven vehicles driven by people paid on par with MTA bus drivers and just about every route will be a big money loser. That’s why the MTA won’t touch this type of service. It’s also why any type of franchise idea and regular inspection/insurance won’t work. The costs couldn’t be recouped by the drivers in terms of fares. The fares would end up being higher than the mostly poor population these vans serve is able or willing to pay.

  • Bolwerk

    I seriously doubt anything works that way. Buses fill the need for some trips pretty well, but justifying a bus still requires some level demand for relatively long trips along a fixed, “linear” route. That demand can be remarkably low, maybe dozens of boardings an hour on average. If it’s dozens of boardings an hour spread very evenly over daytime service times, all the better.

    Dollar vans just don’t make those types of trips. Their users are scattered, their routes aren’t fixed, and they usually have fixed origins with no terminal destination. Your criticisms about working and maintenance may be justified, but not this argument that they’re taking riders from buses. They’re probably feeding mass transit, if anything.

  • Bolwerk

    It might be an interesting experiment for a syndicate franchise, given the presumably slim profit margins. Top-down hierarchies like the TWU and MTA tend to consume more resources because of the obsession with rewarding seniority. Ridership, revenue, and presumably overhead are reasonably predictable, so it’s likely that a small syndicate of profit-sharing workers could manage the whole thing. This offers some built-in insurance against peaks and troughs in demand, too, plus presumably something for the city or MTA to charge as a franchise fee.

  • kevd

    Even on a fixed, high demand route like Flatbush avenue, where there are many MTA buses, the dollar vans do a better job. They are more frequent and because they make fewer stops and have a far more efficient method of fare payment, they are faster than the B41. Also they cast $.75 less. Many drivers are safe, and many are not.

    Punish the reckless and uninsured drivers, but we should not be shutting them down.
    They are providing a service the MTA is unable, or unwilling to provide. And providing that service so much better than the MTA buses that many riders are willing to pay 2 fares, because they’ll transfer to the subway after a $2 van ride.