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When Driving A Dollar Van Is Too Expensive


Tens of thousands of commuters live in places beyond the reaches of the subway in Brooklyn and Queens. There are buses, but advocacy groups rate them poorly for speed and reliability. So instead, many of these commuters turn to private services known as dollar vans. These vans are often cheaper and faster than taking the bus. But as Tay Glass reports, new regulations that increase insurance costs could drive the dollar van industry to a grinding halt.

TAY GLASS, BYLINE: Shakira Barnhill is waiting in front of an MTA bus stop in Jamaica, Queens. But she’s not waiting for a city bus. She’s waiting for a dollar van. A typical dollar van is white, unmarked and has room for about 20 passengers.

GLASS: Why would you ride a dollar van compared to the bus?

SHAKIRA BARNHILL: The dollar vans are more quicker and faster and gets you close to your destination than a bus.

GLASS: Steve London has been driving one for about 35 years. But because of a new law that went into effect on New Years, he might have to find other work. According to a statement from Cuomo, these regulations are meant to make limousines safer after an accident in 2018 killed 20 people. But instead of just affecting limos, the rules apply to all commercial vehicles that hold eight or more passengers. This could be an expensive problem for dollar van drivers like London.

STEVE LONDON: Right now I’m working six days a week just to make sure that my family bills and expenses are covered.

GLASS: At two dollars a ride, dollar vans are already operating on the margins. According to London, he paid about 25,000 dollars for his van insurance last year. This year he expects to pay 5000 dollars more.

LONDON: So yeah, I’m looking at my options of what I will do, whether I stay or whether I go, or how long more I can hold on before I decide to leave.

GLASS: London and many of his fellow drivers have signed petitions for Cuomo to change the law. Assembly Member Nick Perry from Brooklyn heard about the issue from dollar van drivers in his community. And he says weren’t the only ones complaining....

NICK PERRY: I have since been contacted by operators of ambulettes and school bus operators, and so it’s quite more extensive than I initially thought.

GLASS: Now Perry says he’s working to reduce the amount of insurance drivers will have to pay. In the meantime, business is tough for dollar van drivers. And they’re already skirting with the law.

ERIC GOLDWYN: The craziest thing about the vans is that they all operate illegally.

GLASS: Eric Goldwyn teaches urban planning at NYU. He says that most dollar vans pick up passengers who hail them on the street. That’s illegal in New York City. Street hails are primarily reserved for yellow cabs. Goldwyn says if a driver can’t pay their new insurance premium, they may choose to break more of the rules. Like driving under-insured. As for passengers, Goldwyn says he understands why they would opt for the vans.

GOLDWYN: The current condition under which buses operate in New York City is, ya know, very, very, very suboptimal.

GLASS: In the meantime, dollar van drivers like London have to decide if they will continue or if this is...

LONDON: The very last stop!

GLASS: Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Tay Glass. Columbia Radio News.


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