NYC regulations threaten private transportation business

Elizabeth Dorton Contributor
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Hector Ricketts, a small business owner in New York City, says he is experiencing business woes because of the city’s arbitrary regulations regarding public transportation.

Ricketts, a Jamaican immigrant, runs a privately-owned commuter van business called Community Transportation Systems, Inc., which provides transportation to city residents that otherwise might not have means to traverse the city.

His fight with the city is described in a recent documentary by filmmaker Sean Malone called “No Vans Land: The Hector Ricketts Story.”

Malone works for the Charles Koch Institute.

The commuter service, which employs Caribbean immigrants, assists some of the city’s poorest residents with more frequent trips per hour than many city buses, which only check in every 45 minutes or every hour.

His company operates at a cheaper costs for rides and in areas that are oftentimes inaccessible by public transport.

A member with Caribbean Immigrant Services claimed that Ricketts’ plan is a testament to the American dream.

“This is what happened here. A fantastic lemonade stand was created: commuter vans,” said Irwine Clare, an advocate with Caribbean Immigrant Services.

“These were hardworking entrepreneurs who provided a desperately needed transportation service that at the time of the lawsuit was providing transportation for over 60,000 people a day,” said Chip Mellor, president of Institute for Justice, which assisted with the company’s legal battles.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which has jurisdiction over Ricketts’ business, can limit the number of vans it operates and its areas of operation.

Ricketts’ drivers are also prohibited from “discharging or picking up passengers on any city street where buses travel.”

Most streets in NYC are bus routes. At any given time, if a city bus ends up on a street that isn’t an official route, it can then be deemed one, according to the film.

William Mellor, also with the Institute for Justice asserts that this is a story of people faced with arbitrary laws and regulations “whose primary effect is to keep them out of the economy.”

New York Supreme Court prohibited the city council from denying van licenses approved by the TLC in 1999. But other legal facets left in place are still plaguing private commuter companies, which make drivers “easy targets” for cops.

1) Companies must reapply for authorization every 6 years.

2) Police can ticket drivers for picking up passengers anywhere along a city bus route.

3) Drivers can be ticketed for not keeping a “detailed passenger manifest,” which buses and cabs are not required to do.

4) Police can ticket drivers for picking up passengers that hail them from the street.

Doing away with such laws proves difficult because of the Transit Workers Union, the film asserts.

The government’s suppression here is “unfair, it’s un-American, and some might say it’s immoral and illegal,” Ricketts said.

He vowed to continue his fight until he and is coworkers are free from the city’s “stranglehold” they have on his business.

The company has two places in Queens where vans may pick up passengers on the street. But, reminds the filmmaker Malone, “that’s just two places in the entire borough, and it was a nearly impossible battle just to win that small victory.”

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Elizabeth Dorton