Dollar Van Drivers Feel Left Out As Commuter Services Gear Up for L Train Shutdown

A dollar van in Brooklyn (Photo via Caribcandy/Instagram)

With the L Train Shutdown rapidly approaching, companies are lining up to profit from shuttle services between Williamsburg and Manhattan, but a long-time group of working Brooklynites feel they’re being left out: dollar van drivers.

With the shutdown forcing hundreds of thousands of L train riders onto other means of transit, the MTA is hoping that the majority of displaced commuters will stick to alternate means of mass transit: adjacent subway lines, shuttle-bus routes, direct-service ferries and Citi Bikes.

Of course, many for-profit companies sense there’s money to be made in the commuter upheaval. Lyft and Uber drivers are likely to see an uptick in riders across the East River, while tech-commuter services like Chariot and The New L are positioning themselves to capitalize as well.

So what, then, of classic Brooklyn commuter vans, which have historically run the breadth of Brooklyn, serving transit deserts in Flatbush and beyond? They’re getting squeezed out, reports City Limits.

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Winston Williams, who has been driving a dollar van for more than 20 years between Kings Plaza Mall and Downtown Brooklyn, said the DOT won’t approve his proposal to expand his service into Bushwick and Williamsburg.

“They’re not going to stop the cars, the Uber cars, Chariot and all these multi-millionaire companies,” Williams told City Limits. “No part of that is fair.”

Another veteran of the industry, Leroy Morrison, Vice President of the Commuter Van Association of New York, applied for a license to run from Williamsburg’s North 7th Street to the Lower East Side, but says he still hasn’t been approved by the DOT.

The Department of Transportation has stated that they won’t approve any new routes that overlap with planned shuttle bus service from the MTA. Traffic congestion, especially along the Williamsburg Bridge, is one of the key concerns for city agencies during the shutdown.

Licensing may play a part: ride-sharing cars for Lyft and Uber operate as For-Hire Vehicles (with their numbers getting capped earlier this year) while Chariot operates like a black-car service. Dollar vans are licensed as well with legislation from early 2017 classifying and capping their numbers in an effort to crack down on illegal operators.

The issue of licensing and routes then cropped up later that summer, when dollar van operators saw the moves Chariot was making into the L Train territory they’d hoped to expand into, Kings County Politics reported.

Later, a car-share pilot program’s use of reserved parking spaces in North Brooklyn created additional concern among dollar van drivers, though the DOT said the program was unrelated to the L Train shutdown.

Now that the “L-pocalypse” has moved from looming to imminent, it’s unclear whether the city will be able to cut dollar van drivers in on the action. They’ve long operated at a disadvantage until the city has been in crisis, like the 2003 blackout, at which point they’ve been welcomed as a saving grace.

Hopefully, they’ll get a fair shake this time, without a major disaster.

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Paul Stremple

Paul was a staff reporter at Bklyner, responsible for covering Northern and Eastern parts of Brooklyn between August 2017 and January 2019.

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