The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.

Transportation

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jitneys becoming more popular in Miama

Minibus jitneys becoming popular option
Posted on Sun, May. 18, 2008

BY ADAM H. BEASLEY
abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

With gas prices topping $4 in parts of Miami, some are ditching their cars and jumping on the jitney.

The minibus transportation system, which first popped up in South Florida in the 1920s, has long been a cheap and dependable way to get around the city.

The jitney, the common name for a shared taxi, is appealing to some for several reasons. Unlike the bus, which has a fixed schedule, jitneys zoom by seemingly every five minutes. They have routes throughout the county, will make stops anytime you ask, and only cost $1 -- a third cheaper than Metrobus.

And thanks to their size -- slightly bigger than a van but smaller and quicker than the bus -- jitneys can slip in and out of traffic, slicing the commute.

''I don't like taking it, but it's faster,'' said Marie Rodriguez, who uses the jitney to get downtown from Little Haiti at least three times a week. ``I have a bus pass, but there's just so many stops. I'd rather take this.''

The jitney does have its drawbacks, Rodriguez said. They're often cramped, sometimes stiflingly hot, and on some days, boisterous discussions -- often in Creole -- break out.

As much as anything, a jitney is a rolling reflection of the community it serves.

''Like anything in Miami-Dade, it can be a cultural experience,'' said Sonya Perez, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Consumer Services.

There is also a question about the service's long-term viability.

The companies are experiencing the same economic hurdles as most everyone else. For as many new riders jitney owner Daniel Fils-Aime has gained, he believes he's lost at least as many regular passengers who have been laid off.

''The economy has affected everybody,'' said Fils-Aime, who runs Miami Mini Bus, which runs through Little Haiti. ``The gas prices are sky high. A lot of people are not working. It doesn't balance out at all.''

According to the county regulators, the jitney system is viewed as a ''dying'' business, Perez said. With Metrobuses and trains reaching places now they haven't in the past, fewer take the jitney now than before, she added. Jitneys are not allowed in Broward County, according to its transit department.

However, Fils-Aime's fleet of white and blue mini-buses, which hold up to 15 passengers, were packed Tuesday morning.

Miami Metro Bus is one of 13 carriers certified to run jitney service in the county. Routes stretch deep into South Miami-Dade (covered by Metro Jitney) and west through Hialeah (Conchita Transportation). They also run through Overtown, North Miami and Liberty City.

Although they are in competition with the county's public transportation system -- Miami Mini Bus passes several bus stops en route to downtown -- Miami-Dade has an agreement with some of the jitney companies. Metro Jitney and Conchita Transportation both issue and accept Metrorail transfer passes.

The term ''jitney'' came into the vernacular in the early part of the 20th century. The word was commonly used as the name for a five-cent piece -- the cost to catch a ride on the vehicle that was bigger than a taxi but smaller than a full-sized bus, said Miami historian Paul George.

Miami has long had a deep Caribbean influence, and the jitney service is a reflection of it. Shared taxis are the method of transportation in places like Haiti (called Tap-Taps, because you tap on metal to indicate you want off) and some Latin American countries (where they're named p├║blicos).

They caught on in Miami first during the real estate boom of the 1920s, faded then reemerged post-World War II, and then returned again in the 1980s. Since then, they've been a major source of transportation for service workers from outlying areas into downtown Miami.

The system has been regulated by the county since the 1980s. Jitneys are only allowed on certain streets, the vehicles are regularly inspected and drivers must obtain a chauffeur registration and pass background checks to get behind the wheel.

For now, Fils-Aime doesn't plan to raise the fare. Doing so would risk losing customers to the bus.

Plus, it would change the essence of what jitneys have always been -- cheap and accessible by the working class -- and the reason they have the name they do.

''I'm not thinking about making changes yet,'' he said. ``If I did, who's going to service the public?''

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