Remember when former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern argued that private enterprise should replace MTA routes that have been cut or suspended? Well, it appears someone was listening.
Earlier this month, the Taxi and Limousine Commission approved the Group Ride Vehicle Pilot Program that will allow livery vans to make pickups along defunct bus routes. The vans will carry up to 20 people at a time and charge $2.00. Pickups will only be allowed at designated points, and the pilot program is rolling out on just three routes – the B23 (Kensington to Borough Park), the B71 (Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Heights), and the B39, (Williamsburg into Manhattan).
If the program is successful, the TLC said, it could be expanded to other lines, including the Sheepshead Bay stretch of the B4 route that’s been all but eliminated.
But is this a good thing? We hit up our local mass transit expert Allan Rosen for his thoughts:
On one hand it is good because it provides service where none exists now. The question is will it be successful and could it operate at a profit? The problem I have is the fact that transfers are not being offered. Since transferring passengers will have to pay $4.25 for a local trip, I highly doubt it if all the former passengers will return. Transferring passengers will probably continue to walk extra to use an MTA route rather than pay more for the van service. The vans would also have to be publicized with schedules posted which I hope is part of the plan.
I’m also worried about the precedent that this sets. If successful, it will spur the MTA to discontinue other low performing routes and within several years we could have 25% of the bus service operated with these private vans. I believe that the MTA’s two greatest accomplishments have been air-conditioning the fleet and Metrocard. MetroCard meant the end of an irrational transfer system that had plagued Brooklyn and the rest of the City for over 50 years, with some bus routes transferring to others for free and others requiring extra fares. This was based on agreements between the private companies that existed in the 1930s but were gone once the City took over operation of most routes in Brooklyn in 1940 with the Board of Transportation. MetroCard ended this nonsense by allowing free transfers between all bus lines, and MetroCard Gold added free transfers to the subways. This could be like a step backward where you are no longer guaranteed one fare when using two vehicles to make a trip if enough routes eventually become privatized and the fare you pay depends on which two routes you use.
What do you think? Are livery vans at $2-a-pop a suitable replacement for bus service?