‘Dollar’ vans on Day 1: Few riders, long delays

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Day one of dollar van service in Brownstone Brooklyn was a lose-lose proposition — for passenger and operator alike.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s pilot program to add “group ride” service along the now-extinct B71 route sputtered through its Monday debut, as few people used the fledging service, and those who did — this newspaper included — waited 45 minutes for a ride.

The experience on Monday suggested that the MTA was onto something when it eliminated the B71 earlier this year, citing budget cuts and low ridership. Only 1,080 customers rode that Columbia Street to Crown Heights line during the average weekday — and demand for service was just as sparse for van operator Devon Gordon.

By 5 pm on his first day in business, only 12 people had used the new Brooklyn Van Lines service — hardly enough to make the operation sustainable.

But Gordon wasn’t fazed — not yet at least.

“We are putting in the effort to make it work,” he said. “We are assigned to the route and we want to provide a good safe service. Gradually, customers will know we’re here.”

This is the first time the vans are rumbling through Brownstone Brooklyn, heretofore commonplace along busier routes such as Flatbush and Nostrand avenues. The service, which costs $2 per ride, is controversial in Brownstone Brooklyn, not only because “dollar vans” have a reputation for erratic driving, but also because the city program does not require the vans to stay on a set route or time table.

This newspaper was the only customer when Gordon’s white, 14-person Chevrolet Express pulled up at Columbia and Union streets. But the city insisted it was too early to doom the initiative.

“The challenge is to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the service,” said TLC Commissioner David Yassky, who said that his agency has assisted that cause by announcing the service on its much-watched website, printing and distributing many thousands of fliers and palm cards, making presentations at community forums, and enlisting the media to help spread the word.

“We hope the operators will be similarly active in their own efforts,” he added.

For now, two vans operate along the B71 service area. No wonder former B71 riders are skeptical.

“I don’t see how it’s going to work with no set time schedule,” said Kathy Carney. “The point of having transportation is to have it be on a schedule.”

Updated 5:20 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
so-called Brownstone Brooklyners can afford cabs.
Sept. 29, 2010, 3:42 pm
Eric Masaba from Manhattan says:
What do we mean by dynamic ridesharing?

A system that facilitates the ability of drivers and passengers to make one-time ride matches close to their departure time. The hallmarks of a dynamic service are flexibility and convenience.

A difficulty is in distinguishing "dynamic" services from "non-dynamic." It is easy to define a traditional car pool matching service as non-dynamic. In the pre-Internet era all such services were decidedly non-dynamic. "Match lists" based on common origins and destinations were mailed to users, and users were expected to contact one another for the purpose of creating a regular car pool (that kept the same schedule every work day).

Probably all such services have migrated to a web basis. Does this make them "dynamic"? Their purveyors often claim so. ("You can do that.") But given these services' emphasis on recurring, fixed-schedule travel, it is clear that any dynamic use is incidental to their purpose and design.

If we posit a goal of serving the daily commute market, then that places some requirements on the degree of flexibility and convenience necessary for a one-time-ride-match system (meaning that each ride match is a new arrangement, quite likely involving different matched partners each time). Daily commuters cannot be expected to spend more than a very few minutes arranging their commute. This probably precludes checking potential match partners' Facebook profiles, for example. It may even preclude a system that has a conventional web interface without other options such as via telephone keypad (IVR, or Interactive Voice Response) or cell phone text (SMS) message — it is difficult to imagine your typical harried commuter booting up their desktop computer in the morning (though there are no doubt many who do).

Systems such as the current implementations of GoLoco and Zimride, which primarily have a Facebook interface and do not have telephone access, may never be able to serve the daily commute market. From this perspective, these systems are not sufficiently "dynamic." Indeed, their current niche seems to be for longer, more expensive trips (such as college holiday rides home, or travel to conferences), where the user's time investment in logging on and checking user profiles is worthwhile.

Thus, our proposed definition of dynamic ridesharing is A system that facilitates the ability of drivers and passengers to make one-time ride matches close to their departure time, with sufficient convenience and flexibility to be used on a daily basis.
Oct. 18, 2010, 2:39 pm

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