Why do regulated jitney services often fail? Evidence from the New York City group ride vehicle project

David A. King, Eric Goldwyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Many US cities have unsuccessfully experimented with jitney projects to improve transit service, reduce costs, and adapt to shifting demographics. The impetus for this research was to take advantage of a natural policy experiment, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission[U+05F3]s (TLC) Group Ride Vehicle (GRV) Pilot Project, to evaluate why jitneys often fail when regulated to supplement conventional transit. The Commission developed the pilot project in response to service cuts on dozens of New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus routes throughout the city. These cuts, coupled with higher transit fares, dramatically limited transit access for many city residents. Shortly after the service reductions went into effect in June 2010, the Commission announced the pilot project to bring commuter vans (commuter vans are the licensed jitneys in New York City) to five service areas that lost regular bus service. They expected the project to improve access for New Yorkers and create opportunity for jitney drivers and operators. The pilot project targeted service areas in Brooklyn and Queens, and the Commission received commitments from five existing commuter van operators to participate in the project. The project was controversial for multiple reasons, including the City[U+05F3]s willingness to privatize formerly public transit service and the imposition of two fares for Group Ride Vehicle riders traveling into Manhattan. The first Group Ride Vehicle began service in September 2010, and despite optimism from operators and the TLC, the program was unofficially discontinued after only a few months.Though the pilot project failed to attract riders, it highlighted the importance of commuter vans for transit-dependent populations that rely on them and suggests many challenges to formalizing informal transit in the United States. Using the Group Ride Vehicle project as our starting point, we explore why informal jitneys in the United States succeed, and whether the conditions under which they prosper are compatible with conventional transit operations. Focus groups with operators, unstructured interviews with drivers and riders and participant observation are used to help explain the challenges facing the formalization of jitney services in New York. Our analysis identified four reasons why the GRV project failed: (1) a lack of subsidy to maintain service and build demand, (2) a two-month gap between the service cuts and jitney service implementation, (3) poorly branded service, and (4) confusing language used to describe the program. We argue that some of these factors are more perceived than real, but all of them reflect the difficulty of scaling up a niche jitney service to a general purpose transit service.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-192
Number of pages7
JournalTransport Policy
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Informal transit
  • Jitneys
  • New York City
  • Regulatory innovation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation


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