Dollar vans, officially “commuter vans”, offer cheap and reliable transport where public transit fails to go. If the subway is New York’s skeleton, busses its veins, dollar vans are the cells. Majority Caribbean owned, the industry is officially represented by the Commuter Van Association of New York. Their routes often coincide with MTA bus stops; the vans sometimes sport party or religious promotions and are other times unmarked. It costs a buck-ish and if you live beyond the reach of public transit, it’s a life savor. One very useful New Yorker map of all the places the unofficial shuttles go refers to them as New York’s “shadow transit.”
With the L train set to shut down for repairs in 2019, leaving a long corridor of Brooklyn from Williamsburg to Canarsie with limited efficient travel options to Manhattan, car companies are predictably vying for licenses to service those impacted. While dollar vans are a longtime local business already familiar to plenty of Brooklynites, sport deep community ties and worked with the city in emergency situations like 9/11 and transit strikes, operators are saying the city is licensing San Francisco startup Chariot but not them, Kings County Politics reported.
The Uber-like business currently offers an all-access 30-day monthly pass for $119. Unlike Uber, you don’t simply call a Chariot – you must “support” the “route” you want to take from pickup to drop-off, and then 50 other backers must support the route as well.
Despite the city’s history with dollar van operators, the Commuter Van Association’s vice president Leroy Morrison tells Kings County Politics, “we have been applying for authorization from the TLC and DOT to make adjustments to start along the corridor in Manhattan and from North 7th Street and Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg they are shutting us down while at the same time helping a multimillion dollar company get licenses to do what we’ve always done.”
Morrison, Council Member Jumaane Williams and journalists at Kings County Politics all reported getting the runaround from the Department of Transportation as to why a corporate Californian company was being preferred for licenses over neighborhoods’ largely immigrant workers. Indeed, based on Chariot’s description of itself, its business model is to be a sleek and sterile version of dollar vans. “We envision cities were every commuter takes Chariot to work and home,” their website reads, declaring their mission as “building sustainable mass transit.”
This is the beginning of the story of a perfectly equipped Brooklyn business and all of its longstanding employees being displaced by a Silicon Valley startup in the name of bureaucratic soullessness and the ease of hiding behind government departments. Let’s not let this story get told.
[H/t: Kings County Politics]