Public policy keeps driving working protections down, and so we have new realities like this:
Eric Simit, a Jamaican immigrant, has been driving private commuter vans, most commonly known as “dollar vans,” for 15 years in western Queens. He works six days a week — from morning rush hour to the end of the evening commute, charging $2 a ride.
It’s harder to make a profit lately, Simit says, as more vans hit the pavement. With little enforcement, many have found driving a “dollar van” an easy alternative to unemployment.
“It is the fastest way to make money fast,” he said.
But Simit, other van drivers and their fast-cash business are becoming a more formal means of transport. In what Baruch College Professor E.S. Savas calls “privatization by default,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the Taxi and Limousine Commission announced a yearlong pilot program in June, which allows vans to run on the discontinued B23, B71, B39, Q74 and Q79 routes. The target start date is Monday.
Faced with an $800 million deficit, Metropolitan Transportation Authority cut these five Brooklyn and Queens routes, along with several others, earlier this summer, because they were money pits. While the MTA could not break even on the routes despite large tax subsidies, immigrant entrepreneurs like Simit hope to operate vans along them and make a profit.
All five routes cost the authority over $4 per rider — the Q79 was the highest at $8.08. The vans will charge $2 a ride. Vans save on expenses by escaping the high labor costs, American Disability Act requirements and environmental standards that face the transportation authority.
Supporters of the program, including Transportation Alternatives, see the private vans as the best, if not the only way, to serve city neighborhoods in a time of decreased resources and rising costs. But critics see a creeping privatization of transportation that means less service, lower wages and more pollution.