Dollar van drivers rally around colleague in police standoff

Brooklyn dollar van driver standoff
Police coaxed a “dollar van” driver from the top of his vehicle after he refused to get down because of potential fines.
Photo by Paul Martinka

A “dollar van” driver climbed atop his vehicle and screamed at police for nearly an hour after officers fined him for operating without a license in Flatbush on Jan. 2, leading to a rowdy clash between the outlaw chauffeur’s colleagues and dozens of police officers. 

Cops pulled over the alleged counterfeit cabbie on Flatbush Avenue near Clarendon Road at around 8 am, threatening him with up to $4,000 in fines for illegally transporting two passengers, according to another dollar van driver at the scene. The Taxi and Limousine Commission later stated that the driver was only fined $500 for driving an unlicensed cab.

Rather than accept his punishment, however, the underground cab driver — known locally as “The Ranger” — hopped on top of his van in a fit of rage and refused to come down. 

The incident proved a flash point amid long-simmering tension between the “dollar cab” industry and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, according to dozens of drivers, who rushed to the scene in support of their colleague turned folk hero, as he staged his dramatic demonstration. 

“TLC has been harassing us for years,” said one driver, who asked not to be named. “I have been doing this since I was a little boy. I am friends with the dollar van community and they help us commute in and out of work every day.”

Police restrained the “dollar van” driver after coaxing him from his vehicle.                           Photo by Paul Martinka

While drivers — who typically charge passengers very low rates to shuttle them around — have been legally allowed to obtain licenses with the commission since the 1990s, their high fees have led large swaths of drivers to continue to operate underground.

But if authorities catch their unlicensed operation, the vans — which rose to prominence during the 1980 public transit strike — are subject to hefty fines by commission officers. 

Authorities eventually calmed the unruly crowd and forced the disgruntled driver off his roof, throwing him on the ground, strapping him to a gurney, and taking him to Kings County Hospital — but not before he spat on an arresting officer and kicked another first responder, according to authorities. 

Police later slapped the man with a slew of charges — including two counts of assaulting first responders, resisting arrest, harassment, and disorderly conduct, authorities said. 

Additional reporting from Paul Martinka.