Thursday, September 16, 2010
The case of the missing vans
The big transit news this week is that the Taxi and Limousine Commission began a pilot of their pilot jitney program. On Monday, vans allegedly began running between three of the old Q74 stops, two on the edge of the Queens College campus and one at the Kew Gardens subway station (PDF).
I say allegedly because I waited for an hour at the subway on Monday morning, and no vans showed up. I knew I was in the right place, because there was a nice guy from the TLC handing out flyers for the vans that never came. Fortunately the stop is right in front of a Starbucks with a convenient patio - and I wasn't in a rush.
Okay, maybe there was some problem in the morning. I went out to Queens College in the afternoon. I passed by Gate 2, where the NY1 story was shot, and there were no vans. I asked a hot dog vendor if he had noticed people getting on vans, and he said no.
I walked over to the third stop, on Kissena Boulevard, and waited. No vans. A large number of students emerged from campus at 4:30, but most of them took the Q25 in one direction or the other. A number of people actually did sit down and wait at the stop, but they were just waiting to be picked up by friends or relatives, in private cars.
Wednesday morning there were two vans waiting at the subway station, but I didn't have the time or the need to go to Queens College. This morning I didn't see any vans at the subway in the morning or the afternoon, but I didn't wait around long.
The vans are being operated by Community Transportation Systems, run by van pioneer Hector Ricketts (PDF). He's admitted to the News that ridership was lower than expected. Of course, showing up definitely helps, but in general, there's a lot of problems with the way this service has been marketed - or not marketed. I'll get into them in a subsequent post.
Transit in New York, and across the country, is in a bad state. There are two ways we could get out of it. One is for government to institute a wholehearted Keynesian stimulus involving full funding of transit operations and expansion, while avoiding dumping dollars into the "roads and bridges" money pit. I'd love to see it, but I'm not holding my breath. The other, where the market will bear it, is for the government to get out of the way and allow private operators to provide transit service. This is a test of that second strategy. No pressure, guys.