Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More ivory tower nonsense

Yesterday I told you about a very sloppy Times op-ed by Elliott Sclar and Robert Paaswell. The authors link private jitney service to third-world cities, suggesting that they're necessarily dirty, dangerous and foreign. They ignore the jitneys that ran on New York streets in the early part of the twentieth century, which were emphatically not foreign, the Brooklyn and Chinatown "dollar vans" that may sometimes be dirty and dangerous, and the New Jersey vans that are fairly clean and well-regulated, but are not particularly foreign.

You can see how silly Sclar and Paaswell's guilt-by-association game is if you think about other things that exist in third-world cities. For example, Bamako has open-air food markets that stink to high heaven, so if we have open-air food markets they'll stink to high heaven. If we had followed that logic twenty years ago we wouldn't have any greenmarkets.

As I wrote back in January, there is nothing inherent in the concept of private transit, or the jitney service model, that makes jitneys dirty, crowded or dangerous. They are that way because lots of people in those cities are desperate enough for transportation that they'll put up with danger, crowds and filth. Most New Yorkers are not desperate, and we won't put up with that level of danger or discomfort. Go to West New York and you'll find private vans (and buses) that are clean, well-maintained and pretty safe. They need to be in order to attract customers. They're also fairly well-regulated by New Jersey authorities.

Another area where Sclar and Paaswell ignore well-known facts is their assertion that the vans are bad because they don't take Metrocards. I agree that this should be changed, but it wouldn't be that difficult. Metrocards are currently used by the Airtrain, the PATH train, Bee-Line buses, and the Roosevelt Island Tram (currently out of service). From 1996 through 2006 they were accepted by the seven private companies that offered bus service under franchise agreements with the Department of Transportation.

Metrocards - or whatever technology replaces them in the future - could even be used to regulate private van operators. Want to accept Metrocards? You have to show a recent inspection certificate. Too many moving violations? We'll deactivate your Metrocard account. But Sclar and Paaswell aren't trying to find solutions, they're trying to find reasons to reject the vans.

Stay tuned, there's more to come.

1 comment:

jazumah said...

The problem is that many policymakers believe that private transit is bad and/or threatening and want to choke it off entirely. What if you were NYC and you were trying to cut funding to the MTA. Private buses are a threat because the only way to cut funding and still have a system is to raise fares on the captive passengers. Private transit screws that all up.

The NJ operators are getting better because NJDOT has been conducting jitney inspections near the tunnel. The smarter jitney guys are going to the larger 33 and 40 passenger buses and they can pound their smaller counterparts into dust. This is also happening in Queens to the dismay of MTA unions. When a commuter van company is having a 29 or 33 seat bus pinch hit out on Guy Brewer Boulevard, it starts to send a message that not every "dollar van" company is just trying to hustle a quick buck.

There is another economic shock just around the corner and the ivory tower types will have no choice but to bring private transit to the table.