City seeks ‘dollar vans’ to operate on dead MTA routes

City seeks ‘dollar vans’ to operate on dead MTA routes
Photo by Ted Levin

The city wants dollar vans to fill a huge gap in Brownstone Brooklyn bus service that was created by MTA service cuts last month.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission quietly approved the privatization initiative that will allow livery vans to operate along bus routes eliminated by the cash-strapped state agency — including the B71 route that once journeyed from Columbia Street through tony Carroll Gardens and Park Slope on its way to Crown Heights.

Williamsburg’s former B39 line, which was popular with seniors and the handicapped because it went over the Williamsburg Bridge, is also included in the initiative.

Under the plan, the vans will only be allowed to pick up passengers at specified locations — but drop-offs can be at locations negotiated by the driver and commuter.

Where the rubber hits the road, not everyone is getting on board. The proposal is likely to be lambasted in neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, where the so-called “dollar vans” have not traditionally operated.

As such, civic leaders in those neighborhoods expressed fear and loathing.

“Oh my god, it’s insane!” said Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. “You’ll have guys dive-bombing in and out on Union Street between school buses.”

Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association, added that the “public-private partnership” leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

“The government should be providing essential services that don’t necessarily make a profit,” he said. “The government and this administration seems to be keen on privatizing all the services that [they] used to provide.”

Even Michael Cairl, the president of the Park Slope Civic Council who was initially open to the idea, saw stepped-up van shuttles as the beginning of the end of public transportation.

“This is the beginning of a pared-down transit system, and that’s unfortunate,” he said.

The city insisted that it is not looking to privatize mass transit.

“The best outcome is a robust, healthy MTA that can provide bus service everywhere it is needed,” said David Yassky, commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Since we don’t have that at the moment, all we can try to do is give commuters the best set of options we can — we are not replacing the MTA.”

And van operators may not be interested in replacing the transit agency either.

“They are trying to use us, but there is nothing in it for us,” said Winston Williams, owner of Blackstreet Van Lines. “I think they’re full of it.”

Williams said the program will have too many restrictions to make it profitable, particularly the inability to pick up passengers where the driver sees fit.

Yassky insisted van companies would have plenty of reasons to participate in the program.

“Their incentive is that if they can make money transporting people, they will do it. Our market research tell us that there are providers willing and eager to serve the market.”

The buses will be able to transport up to 20 passengers, each paying a flat $2 fare — a quarter less than a city bus ride. Interestingly, the MTA applauded the assistance.

“The MTA welcomes the city’s independent efforts to promote livery van service in areas where funding is insufficient to support public transportation,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.