The city's experiment to get commuter vans to provide service along former bus routes is off to a rough start.
About a month after the vans began operations, two of the five companies selected to take part in the pilot project have essentially dropped out because of low ridership, according to Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky.
“The whole idea of allowing the market to fill the demand where there’s demand means that some will succeed and some won’t,” Yassky said. “That’s the way the market operates.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission selected the five operators to provide public transportation in neighborhoods where the MTA cut back in June. They began service in mid-September.
Yassky said Tuesday that service was no longer being offered on the former B23 and B39 lines, though he wasn’t sure when it stopped.
Sunset Service Transportation, which was supposed to run the B23 service in Flatbush and Borough Park, hasn’t returned a telephone message. Fatai Lasisi, owner of City Link Van & Transportation, which was chosen to run along the B39 line from Williamsburg into Manhattan, says he no longer operates as often as he once did, but he said he will still pick up and discharge about 8 to 10 passengers a day who call ahead or who are regular riders.
“It’s not like the MTA,” Lasisi said. “The MTA gets money from the state. I have to pay for everything myself: the gas, the insurance, the workers comp.”
Yassky says he had asked all operators to commit to a three-month trial period, but he's not penalizing the operators who dropped out early. He says he hopes ridership on the other three lines will grow as more people hear about them.
The vans charge $2 a ride, but don't honor MetroCards and don't give free transfers to the subway. Seniors and students also don’t get half-fare discounts the way they do when they ride the MTA.
Sulaiman Haqq, the owner of the Brooklyn Van Lines, which is continuing to run vans along the old B71 route through Brownstone Brooklyn, says there’s another, cultural problem. He has been operating vans on Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues and says he has no problem getting the immigrants who live near those routes to take his vans.
“Seventy-five percent of the transportation systems in the Caribbean are mini-buses, what we call dollar vans. So they are accustomed to this,” Haqq said. “Venturing beyond the Caribbean-American neighborhoods like Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Red Hook -- these are places we don’t normally do business.”
Yassky said the two lines in Queens -- mimicking Q74 and Q79 routes -- are still operating.