NYC Transit Strike – Caribbean Immigrant Operated Dollar Vans Feeling Used

Hardbeatnews, NEW YORK, N.Y., Weds. Dec. 21, 2005: Once castigated as the villains by some in the city council, the popular ‘dollar vans,’ run largely by Caribbean immigrants, again stepped in to save commuters during the strike yesterday. But one of the city’s top Jamaican-born van boss says it time for the administration to allow the vans to run the same route as city buses and not only call on them in times of crisis.

Hector Ricketts, head of Community Transportation of Queens, in an interview with HBN yesterday, said the current strike crisis has actually sparked “a little bit of anger” among authorized van owners, even though they’re stepping up to fill in as the Transit Workers Union remain on strike.

“You hear of these emergency plans by the city that includes ‘dollar vans’ but after the crisis, it’s back to business as usual,” he said yesterday.

His comments were in direct reference to the city law, enacted in 1993, which prohibits the vans from picking up and dropping off passengers along any street designated as a bus route and requiring them to transport passengers by “prearrangement” only.

But Ricketts insists it’s time for the “prohibition” to end, pointing that the vans have helped picked up the slack many times over when the city faced a crisis.

They include threats of strike during the Rudy Giuliani administration; the strike by the yellow cabs and this recent strike. The vans – over 350 licensed by the Taxi & Limousine Commission, were out in full force yesterday, transporting riders around Queens and to the Long Island Railroad station and also shuttling company employees to work under contracted deals.

Ricketts insists the vans have delivered a professional and incident-free service in times of emergency and wants the mayor and the governor, Mike Bloomberg and George Pataki, to realize that the vans play a vital role in the city’s transportation network, strike or not.

“They’re taking us for granted,” he said of the administration, but added that after the strike is over, he and his members are going to seek a meeting with Bloomberg and Pataki, and push for a resolve.

“We want to share the street,” he said, instead of having them “pull us out of their back pockets” every time there’s a strike.

“The record is there. Why not fix it… why not recognize us?,” the Queens resident questioned. The popular dollar vans operate in both Brooklyn and Queens.

Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute of Justice, who represents the van industry, also wants the prohibitive measure lifted.

“The strike is gain proving that van operators are once again heroes,” Mellor told HBN from his D.C. office yesterday. “They always come to the rescue… and they do so with a professionalism that’s a hallmark of the industry. But the city is taking them for granted. They need to operate on bus routes.”

Vans have been rescuing New Yorkers in transportation crisis since 1980. And the IJ says the privately operated van companies kept running when city services were shut down during the blizzard of 1996. They also provided more than 3,000 free rides to rescue workers and family members to and from Ground Zero.

Vans carry 60,000 passengers to and from work each day for $1.50 per trip compared to $2 on the subways or city buses. –