Yesterday, City Council voted to limit the number of commuter vans on the road and crack down on illegal, rogue operators.
The Commuter Van Safety Act, a package of three bills sponsored by Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams and Queens Council Member Daneek Miller, will cap commuter van licenses at 735, while committees conduct mandatory safety studies.
In addition, fines for illegal drivers will almost double, rising to a minimum of $1,000 and max of $4,000.
While penalties for unlicensed vans is set to rise sharply, the bill also has provisions to make life easier for licensed drivers and van companies. Read more details about each bill here.
Most Flatbush readers know of — or have ridden in — dollar vans (known more formally as commuter vans). They often weave brazenly in and out of traffic on Flatbush Avenue, their staccato honking serving as a calling-card to passengers waiting at unmarked stops from Park Slope to Marine Park.
For Brooklyn and Queens residents in public transportation deserts, this semi-underground transit system (which run $2 for per trip on a network of routes) provide an indispensable service — they’re cheaper, faster, and run more frequently than public transit. And for the mostly Caribbean immigrant operators, it’s been an essential business for decades.
Dollar vans have even earned their place in classic hip-hop culture (Mos Def and Talib Kweli shoot their iconic music video riding down Flatbush Avenue in a dollar van).
But in an unregulated market, many of the vans operate without licenses or insurance, posing a threat to passengers and pedestrians; including a collision in September where a dollar van fatally hit a man in Marine Park.
“Commuter vans are a major source for transportation in my district and in many other communities across the City,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, whose district includes Flatbush and East Flatbush. “These bills are about making sure people have the legal opportunity to operate commuter vans, while also stepping up enforcement, and ensuring passenger safety.”
Council Members Williams and Miller encourage passengers to only ride with vans that display this decal:
“The Commuter Van industry has been on the front lines of transporting New Yorkers where they lack other transit options,” said Leroy Morrison of the Commuter Van Association of New York & owner of Alexis Van Lines. “This Act will help level the playing field, but also protect commuters against rogue, unlicensed, and uninsured drivers.”