It's very difficult to get a public system to cover every route and part of the city that needs transit, but most city authorities are reluctant to license cheap private jitneys. The public system employees are usually well paid and organized to oppose competition and private taxi companies charge much higher than market rates and are very well positioned to spend some profits defending their oligopolies.
There are eight first world megacities -- cities over ten million population. I wonder if they each have an emerging institution like this.
I understand that in Los Angeles, where the busses are awful and the infrastructure is laser focused on exclusive use of private motorcars, has dollar vans in the Spanish-speaking communities. I'd be interested to learn if the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean speakers use those or if they have their own.
In Mexico City, the city has simply licensed dollar vans with just the minimal oversight necessary for public safety. They've all painted themselves green and white and the informal routes have firmed up but there is still -- decades later -- no map, public or private, of the routes of the most common form of transit in this modern city of 22 million. The routes are set and reliable; there's just no central authority to collect information.
Tokyo has built the most extensive rail system in the world by far. I don't know if that has been enough to pre-empt the emergence of informal vans. Seoul has been building fast to catch up building a similarly extensive network.
I wonder about London, Paris, and Osaka.
This seems to be a common refrain, but it's also outdated. Both the bus and subway networks in LA are massively larger than in San Francisco (which, by the way, has the world's slowest bus fleet at 8.1 mph ). LA County is massively larger than San Francisco (including the equivalents of the entire Peninsula, Oakland, and Marin) and has sections of very dense bus service (any of the numbered streets plus Wilshire going west from downtown) and sections of very sparse bus service (Malibu). And it's all 25% cheaper than Muni too (with fewer strikes and many fewer naked people).
There are 13 subway stops under construction in LA and the LAX airport connector finally got approved with an actual train stop directly at LAX.
I'm not saying there aren't holes in the LA transport network, but it's better than many visitors realize.
But the huge area the system needs to cover means most of the resident population is significantly underserved. As a random sample, I just put the 15 miles between Lakewood to Carson into Google Maps and the transit routes start at 2 hours each way, even during peak hours! It's a 20 minute drive.
A major challenge for people living with limited means is how much slower life is when they're dependent on public transit to get around. LA's limited network removes many seemingly-accessible employment or education options entirely.
Note that urban traffic speeds, net of stops, are often quite modest, and that "dwell times" and stop frequency have a profound impact.
Even BART, with its 80 MPH peak speeds, averages about 35 MPH for longer throughway routes. You can verify this roughly by comparing BART travel times with driving distances in Google Maps.
But cities with slow average transit speeds are also generally pretty dense. Remember, SF is 7 miles square, do even 8.1 MPH gets you from one end to the other in an hour (and that's pretty much a worst case).
Google Maps shows the SF Ferry Building to SF State (a cross-town trip) as 21 minutes by car (good luck with parking), or 39 minutes by transit.
Worse are trips between less-travelled areas. The Marina to SF Zoo is a 21 minute drive, but 1h2m by bus.
Driving from the Ferry Building to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate park is only 5.8 miles but would take 21 minutes -- that's 16.5 MPH, by car. Access to highways vs. surface streets makes a big difference.
Contrast this with a city like Seoul, where nearly every block is filled with condos and apartments, right up to the edge of the green belt. Each block could house at least a thousand people. Seoul has a population density of 43K per square mile. New York City has only 28K. San Fran has 17K. Tokyo has 16K. Los Angeles has 8K. Dallas has 1.4K. Even the suburbs of Seoul have higher population density than most American cities.
Near every street in Seoul has a bus route going through it and/or a subway line below it. There is no gap for private shuttles to fill. But this convenience comes at a price: everyone must live in dreary, monotonous, cookie-cutter apartments and condos. Maybe that's better than living in dreary, monotonous, cookie-cutter single-family homes; at least the buildings are better maintained, and it's certainly better from a carbon footprint point of view as well. But it does get a bit suffocating, and the tightly packed structure leaves little room for experimentation and disruption.
Doesn't Seoul have a huge belt of mountains to go skiing and hiking in just a couple miles outside the outer subway stations? Maybe even closer around places like Seouldae? That's a pretty good option for open space.
I agree that US suburbia is stifling in its own way and hostile to transit and dollar vans. Still, LA, SF, Chicago, and NYC have plenty of places they could work.
Those density figures are misleading. You've chosen San Francisco County, LA county, and the five central NY counties, but included only the populated part of Seoul and most of the Kaanto for Tokyo. The populated parts of Tokyo and Seoul are of similar density (as is Mexico City), around 40k/mi^2, fairly consistently through their metro areas. New York varies from 110k in central Manhattan to miles low density 4k sprawl on the outskirts. SF tops out around 17k and then sprawls. LA is similar but slightly more consistent. The pretty parts of Paris are at 80k but everyone finds them liberating and exciting rather than stifling -- maybe because it's done without high rises.
I'm not disputing that. The difference is that the "populated parts" of Seoul comprise the entire habitable area of the city, which is what makes public transit so affordable even for those who live in the outskirts.
There is no low-density "sprawl" in or around Seoul. It's all high-rise apartments and condos until you abruptly hit some sort of obstacle (like a mountain). It makes little difference which counties and districts you pick. Of the 25 wards that make up Seoul, the one with the lowest population density has 25K per sq mi. The highest has 74K. So the peak is lower than NYC, but the standard deviation is much lower as well. In other words, there's less diversity of living arrangements.
A random residential area in the outskirts of Seoul looks like .
A random residential area in the outskirts of NYC looks like .
The price is generally lower than the government public transport system buses.
I was/am generally a frequent user of these means of transport. Largely because of the price and frequency of availability and they just work. They will even stop by places the metropolitan buses wouldn't give a stop. The city outskirts have this almost as their default means of transport. I've even been autos with goats and calves.
One more great thing about such buses is they generally stop at places where there are a lot of hawkers. So you can also get to buy cheap shirts, socks, slippers, FM radios, miscellaneous toys and other cool stuff. Which are also like some kind of a under ground market, they operate evading and running from the police- Generally when they get caught a bribe of 100-200 rupees comes handy.
Different areas/routes have different conventions. Price is sometimes by negotiation, sometimes the bus fare and sometimes twice the bus fare.
Makes sense to the people who use it regularly but very hard to penetrate for a newcomer. Virtually impossible for tourists. Ironically, a lot of guide books tell tourists to use these.
All my best,
Option 1: Go to high traffic bus stations along major North-South roads (roads #20,#4,#2 are good choices) or the Jerusalem-TV highway on Friday evening or Saturday before sestet.
Option 2: Go to central stations (eg 'New Tel Aviv Bus Station') area and ask around.
Option 3: Find backpackers/teenagers with bags (it's summer break) & at regional central stations.
Option 4: WB or eat jerusalem settlements (it's a bad week for these). I think many of the smaller settlements have semi-private or informal bus networks on some different informal system.
Option 5: is transport to and around Arab towns int the Sharon/triangle region. There are spots in Raanana, Kfar Saba, Netanya and the rest of the big towns in the area that serve as Terminals for Sherut Taxis to nearby arab towns. These will usually have a station master type of guy. He will most likely be smoking a nargilla.
Watch for Taxi vans with route numbers. These are the Sherut taxis
...didn't know they were so prevalent. Love the Jeepney's though they're just like little Chicken Bus'
There are frequent Sherut taxi vans that travel between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As soon as there are 10 passengers, they go.
I wish NYC had Sherut vans. People would probably taking far fewer taxis and be much greener if it did.
There are also Taxi shares in NYC, which are similar, but hold less people (4). These are somewhat informal affairs and you have to know where to go / stand. But if you're going downtown anyway, why not split the fare with 4 strangers?
You will however find something much like this well established in large cities in Sub-Saharan Africa under the name "Matatu" or "Minibus taxi" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Share_taxi#South_Africa
(But yeah, within London the public transport is good enough to push out this kind of thing)
Some companies run small coaches or minibuses to out of town work areas (e.g. Fort Dunlop) that are hard to get to by public transport. I think they are employer run rather than locally organised.
Very nice piece of writing that article, well done. Could be a book in that.
There are some projects to map them, for example:
Reminds me of the poda poda taxi system in Sierra Leone which has no official public transport and also the matatu's all over Rwanda and Kenya which are alternatives to the official public lines.
Interesting to see that in NYC they deck out the inside of the vans/buses with TVs and other things (to stay "undercover") while in other countries the matatus and poda podas are decorated on the exterior with all sorts of amazing paint jobs, graphics and slogans. Usually they are either inspirational, religious or in homage to a favorite premier league team.
12 HKD is 1.5 USD. The route is this on Google Maps, which notes that the distance of approximately 8 km should take "13 min without traffic". So 12 minutes is basically dangerous driving!
The numbers are subways, the letters are trains. There are busses too, but I never use them. And there are rental bikes in the streets: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A9lib%27
I don't think Paris needs shadow transit.
Don't forget the trams above ground too (6 lines running, 4 more planned).
The official public transport organ has a (flash :() map which you can switch between rail (trains, subways and trams), day bus and night bus: http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/carteidf.php
Vans changed transportation landscape massively in late 90s, and for good. Some villages which had like five busses per day now are served by a van every half an hour.
http://www.viadf.com.mx/directorio/Microbus looks like a good directory of microbus routes.
I think that organized projects based on smartphone users should be able to solve the problem eventually.
The black taxi cabs during the 'Troubles' there were sort of similar, I believe. It was a shared ride system, required due to the difficulty of getting around the different parts of the city, with Catholic and Protestant areas divided by the 'peace' walls and a lack of public transport.
It all started off well, but soon, instead of a Free Enterprise utopia of owner-operators looking after their vehicles, as was envisaged, owners bought fleets of taxis and "the miracle of the 80's became the nightmare of the 90's" as they engaged in brutal "taxi wars" over routes.
As far as I know, drivers pay "rent" to the owners, and then keep the remainder of the takings for the day, incentivising extreme recklessness and lawlessness as they try to complete as many trips as possible (there are some South African libertarian types who claim minubus taxis are safe, but the road safety figures they cite are certainly incomplete and probably wrong).
Attempts to re-regulate have to a large extent, failed, and when Bus-Rapid-Transit was started in Johannesburg, taxi owners got a cut (with the implicit threat that drivers/passengers would be killed if they didn't).
Yes, there was a general breakdown in law and order during the transitional period in South Africa during the 1990's that wouldn't happen in other countries, but it is a reminder that this sort of business needs to be kept well regulated.
EDIT: There was also an epidemic of violence on trains (an old and decrepit network serving the larger black townships) during the chaos of the early 1990's. As far as I know, the perpetrators were never found, even though elements of the apartheid regime were suspected at the time. The taxi industry had as strong a motive to carry out the attacks as any.
And for a counter example, New York is very stingy with its medallions, which has created powerful special interest groups, and a system that serves drivers and passengers poorly in many respects.
but also serves drivers and passengers pretty well in many other respects
On the passenger side of things, aside from the lack of innovation, getting a cab in certain neighborhoods is problematic. Cabbies profiling potential fares is still a problem, despite regulations. There are other availability issues as well, for example when the weather is bad or when you get "upstreamed" during peak commute times.
That's how taxis work in many places, including where I live (Austin, TX). Many of the taxi drivers here lease their taxi from one of the few cab companies which are restricted by anti free market cab regulations.
> ...incentivising extreme recklessness and lawlessness as they try to complete as many trips as possible
These two are not necessarily connected. It is the government's responsibility to make sure they are not being reckless or lawless.
Well, I don't know about that. I suggest you acquaint yourself with Russia in the nineties. :)
Imagine the uproar on HN if this were to happen to, say, Uber drivers...
My brother inspects commercial vehicles. These vans and Chinatown busses are often unmaintained and owned by shell companies. IIRC, he takes half of the vans off the road for serious safety violations, and 75% of the busses. Traditional busses and licensed vans almost never have that happen.
I see this in action all the time, because I tend to bike late at night when bars are closing and people need cabs. If a cab does end up in Brooklyn, because they were required by law to take someone from Manhattan there, they tend to beeline it back to Manhattan, avoiding streets where they might encounter a fare. Smith St. / Clinton St. is one pair like this. Clinton St. is a residential street that leads to the Brooklyn Bridge. Nobody naturally wants a cab there. Smith St. is one street over going the same direction, and it's all bars and restaurants. It also leads directly to the Brooklyn Bridge (actually, the Manhattan Bridge; they're very close). But you see most cabs opting for Clinton instead of Smith, so they don't get stuck picking up someone in Brooklyn that wants to go even deeper into Brooklyn. Instead, they try to get back to the highly-profitable Manhattan as quickly as possible, even if it means going empty.
That's not racism, that's just the reality of how you make money as a cab driver.
(The cabs that can't pick up passengers in Manhattan all take Smith St.)
 Except people like me that have noticed this pattern. I do see cabs stopping for fares on Clinton, since they have to if flagged down.
Do they abide by this rule 100%? How is it monitored or enforced?
hahahahah. They don't; not even close.
If you're already in the cab when you tell them then they're not likely to tell you to get out.
Cabs pull over, look at you, and drive off if you aren't the right skin color. It happens all the time.
They assume black people live in poor or dangerous or remote neighborhoods.
The law about cabs being required to stop is totally moot. Cabs simply don't pull over if they don't want to.
Go find a black guy and try to hail a cab with him for a few days. The data will really shock you.
... under a bureaucratically-controlled pricing structure that ignores reality by forcing you to price all those routes the same.
Cab fares don't scale, so working the same time * lower fare = less wage.
I doubt they could afford to pay premium cab fare if they couldn't afford regular buses.
It makes you wonder if the US national and local political situation is actually interested in the needs of the people or simply protecting their benefactors (taxi unions, etc). After seeing the efficiency of private transit, I'd be willing to accept gray markets then an overbearing police state if it means reasonable solutions.
This is one of the areas where we could use a better public-private partnership in our cities.
Also, the US can't be third-world by definition. Third-world just means not aligned with the US or Russia, and is an anachronism.
There is also a startup called Chariot that is building a private bus line to downtown SF; this one has a surprisingly different appeal than the ones in the article in NYC: the existing public Muni bus line from the Marina to downtown is notoriously slow and crowded, so perhaps commuting professionals would be willing to pay a little more...
I'd say adding 20 minutes each way to your commute is a pretty big deal.
Just because you can walk does not mean everyone else should as well. There is nothing wrong with choice, public transport would be a welcome addition to almost every stretch of urban destinations, that does not curtail walking in any way, shape or form.
In short: Walk all you want, just gimme mah ride, is all.
I guess I'm spoiled by the well-interconnected transit systems in many international cities; step off the (high-speed) intercity rail and downstairs into the core of a robust subway system, or walk to the bus terminal next door.
San Francisco once had such an intermodal transit hub in the Transbay Terminal; the city is seeking $2.5 Billion to rebuild it.
Until then, we'll have to rely on private transportation like the 'dollar cabs' described in the article, or San Francisco's very own Lyft and Uber.
I personally bike about a mile to a train station in Palo Alto, and about a mile from Caltrain to the office in San Francisco.
However, San Francisco has some fundamental problems that make it less hospitable to biking than Copenhagen. It is notoriously hilly, and doesn't have the awesome protected bike tracks that Copenhagen has.
I recently ran across a hard-to-believe, but as far as I can tell, accurate statistic: the Copenhagen metropolitan area has more miles of protected bike lanes than the entire United States combined does. That is somewhat surprising, since the Copenhagen metro area isn't really all that big.
Unless they leave you stranded because they are "full" of bikes. Like most non-local trains during rush hour.
Worse is trying to rush the distance catching one of the hourly-only off-peak trains. Or having to carry anything other than a light bag the distance.
If you're 1) rushed (have places to be / people to see / work to do), 2) the weather's poor, 3) you're female (the area's improved but it's still not the best side of town), 4) you're risking a 60+ minute wait if you miss the train, etc., it's not particularly pleasant.
Walking a similar distance along a different or safer route, where I've got the time to wander, or where transit service is such that I've only a few minutes wait (or as is more likely the case on much of Muni in SF: you've simply no idea and the wait may be anywhere from 10 seconds to hours), the situation's not so bad.
But miss your CalTrain connection and you're 30-60 miles from home in a part of town with not much to offer. Though that too is getting somewhat better with the ballpark and revitalization going on.
Some people are limited mobility as well (like the elderly), and/or especially vulnerable to heat and inclement weather.
It's a little offensive to generalize about "Americans" as a whole, especially based on the comments of exactly 1 person, so please don't. 300+ million people live here, with often very different customs and practices, of different social classes, ethnicities, beliefs and worldviews, and living in many different geographies. It's not as diverse as all of Europe, but not even close to homogenous and easily generalized either.
With an app and even 1-2 of the right vehicles, someone could effectively enter the public transport space whereas doing so now would require a salaried driver on top of that and bring pricing that would be too high for ride-sharing.
Awareness (in the absence of formal route maps and schedules) comes from the community but not only because of it. If you arrived in a country and someone said "Check out this app, it's available in your language on most phones, the vehicles can go where you want to go and you'll never have trouble with language issues," it's not as though a majority will ignore that.
We'll see high traffic lines operated much as they are (trains and larger buses) but I definitely think we'll eventually see automated vans operated within the gaps as these vans do.
The sad thing is that stories like those don't even seem to elicit surprise.
We need a way to refocus our police on their mission, to "protect and serve". We need to demand more professionalism from them. It's a difficult challenge. By nature, the job attracts a lot of bad applicants along with the good.
"officers used to [...] throw van keys on the roof, throw them in the garbage"
Why do we tolerate people walking our cities with guns and tasers who behave like schoolyard bullies?
And in response to your point about needing to refocus the police:
>“It’s about safety, and I field a lot of community complaints about how these vans drive aggressively. We’re not trying to hurt the honest guys making a living, but if you do something illegal, if you’re picking up a hail or picking up on a bus stop, I don’t care if you’re accredited with signage on the side of your van—you’re gonna get a ticket.”
I argue that the police are doing their jobs. They are stopping illegal commuter vans that are endangering their passengers and other drivers while harming public transportation and legal Taxi services.
There are also a large number of better sanctioned private bus lines that go from Port Authority to various points in a 100 mile radius. I take one to get to my parents in PA on a regular basis, where there is jack squat for public transit
For anyone curious, the point is that this greatly reduces the time spent at each stop. On regular buses, passengers must enter through one door and, one by one, make their payment (with either a Metrocard or cash).
Where I grew up they were the cabs and delivery service since the 'legit' equivalents refused to come into the neighborhood.
There's a weird pricing symbiosis between the two sides.
font-family is "caslon". Looks great, going to have to use that.