‘Dollar’ vans on Day 1: Few riders, long delays

Day one of dollar van service in Brownstone Brooklyn was a lose-lose proposition — for passenger and operator alike.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s pilot program to add “group ride” service along the now-extinct B71 route sputtered through its Monday debut, as few people used the fledging service, and those who did — this newspaper included —waited 45 minutes for a ride.

The experience on Monday suggested that the MTA was onto something when it eliminated the B71 earlier this year, citing budget cuts and low ridership. Only 1,080 customers rode that Columbia Street to Crown Heights line during the average weekday — and demand for service was just as sparse for van operator Devon Gordon.

By 5 pm on his first day in business, only 12 people had used the new Brooklyn Van Lines service — hardly enough to make the operation sustainable.

But Gordon wasn’t fazed — not yet at least.

“We are putting in the effort to make it work,” he said. “We are assigned to the route and we want to provide a good safe service. Gradually, customers will know we’re here.”

This is the first time the vans are rumbling through Brownstone Brooklyn, heretofore commonplace along busier routes such as Flatbush and Nostrand avenues. The service, which costs $2 per ride, is controversial in Brownstone Brooklyn, not only because “dollar vans” have a reputation for erratic driving, but also because the city program does not require the vans to stay on a set route or time table.

This newspaper was the only customer when Gordon’s white, 14-person Chevrolet Express pulled up at Columbia and Union streets. But the city insisted it was too early to doom the initiative.

“The challenge is to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the service,” said TLC Commissioner David Yassky, who said that his agency has assisted that cause by announcing the service on its much-watched website, printing and distributing many thousands of fliers and palm cards, making presentations at community forums, and enlisting the media to help spread the word.

“We hope the operators will be similarly active in their own efforts,” he added.

For now, two vans operate along the B71 service area. No wonder former B71 riders are skeptical.

“I don’t see how it’s going to work with no set time schedule,” said Kathy Carney. “The point of having transportation is to have it be on a schedule.”