Every once in a while I like to check in with our old friend, the Red Hook Tunnel Bus. Faithful readers will recall the many abortive proposals to bring decent transit to Red Hook in Brooklyn, a neighborhood cut off by the BQE where residents going to Manhattan have either a long walk or an unreliable local bus ride just to get to the subway. Even though the entire neighborhood is close to the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, none of the buses that currently go through the tunnel stop in Red Hook. A bus through the tunnel could get Red Hook residents to jobs and subway stations in Lower Manhattan in ten to fifteen minutes, while a similar trip could take 45 minutes by bus and subway.
There's still no word from the MTA about any possible tunnel bus; while the Ravitch plan calls for an expansion of the bus system, it does not recommend any specific routes. However, today the Daily News ran a story about a private bus company based in Red Hook, Trans Express, which has had to lay off about sixteen employees because of the current economic downturn. Trans Express's website shows that they not only have 55-passenger tour buses, but also a number of 32-passenger midsize buses and 22-passenger cutaway minibuses - very similar to those used by the private jitneys that go to New Jersey.
I'm not up to date with the current legal climate, but I'm guessing that Trans Express wouldn't be able to just start picking up passengers at bus stops in Red Hook. They'd have to either get some special kind of license, or else charter each run as a subscription service - requiring everyone to buy tickets in advance. They might not be willing to take such a chance.
However, other people might. A nonprofit organization (or, say, a multinational retail furniture outlet) that's interested in a pilot project might be willing to do the work to publicize the service and get commuters to subscribe. You can rent one of these minibuses, with driver, for about $700 a day (ten hours), maybe less in the current market.
In the best-case scenario the bus makes three one-way trips an hour, 30 trips per day, and it's full on every trip (20 passengers). That would bring the cost per passenger per one-way trip to $1.16, about the cost of a subway fare. If it's only half-full on average (ten people), the cost per trip per passenger is $4.67.
If our nonprofit didn't invest with Madoff and has some cash to subsidize the service, they could get it down to half that, which is under the cost of a monthly Metrocard, or even just accept a token payment of $10 per month.
Clearly, the $700 figure includes some markup by the charter company, but I don't know what that might be. The bottom line is that it wouldn't be impossible to make some money on this service. You're probably not going to get rich, but you might not have to subsidize it indefinitely.