New York's Secret Transit System

#Travel

Thu, Jul 3rd, 2014 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

The New Yorker has this fascinating look into the phenomena of the dollar van, illegal services that provide "frequent departures and dependable schedules," creating a thriving transit ecosystem where New York's subways and busses don't reach. The article comes complete with route maps if you want to try them yourself.

Stand for ten minutes on any corner of Flatbush Avenue and you’ll see a stream of dollar vans with Haitian flags tied to their antennae, Bible scriptures in colorful decals across their windshields, advertisements for local reggae concerts pasted on their side windows, and forests of rainbow-colored air fresheners dangling from their rearview mirrors. The vans are a big part of life in Brooklyn, especially among people with Caribbean roots; they’ve even inspired reggae tributes and a series of in-van concerts by local hip-hop artists called Dollar Van Demos. A twenty-four-year-old unlicensed van driver who goes by the name Skates operates one of the most recognizable vehicles on Flatbush, outfitted with a massive sound system that can project inside and outside the van, plus fifteen synchronized television screens that broadcast a steady stream of rap and hip-hop music videos.

During the 2013 fiscal year, the Taxi and Limousine Commission impounded more than six hundred illegal vans, two hundred and forty of them in Brooklyn. Still, unlicensed dollar-van drivers like Skates remain ubiquitous in the borough and are in a constant legal tug-of-war with city authorities, dodging fines and repossession as they navigate the streets. “You hear about the vans by word of mouth,” Patrice Gibson, a thirty-year-old teaching fellow at Long Island University, said. “A friend told me, ‘Why are you taking the subway for two fifty when you can take the two-dollar van?’ But also, I’m Guyanese, and we have vans like this back in Guyana, so when I saw the van on the street I knew what it was.”

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