The Wall Street Journal has a nice piece on the dollar vans that operate in Brooklyn and Queens. Link here. I am quoted, and the quoted rider supports our (with Eric Goldwyn) research that the vans act as a premium transit service because of faster speeds:
David King, an assistant professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, has been studying dollar vans for a couple of years. He estimated that there are 300 legal vans and 400 to 500 illegal ones in the city. Mr. King estimates that 100,000 to 120,000 riders a day take the vans in Queens and Brooklyn, which would make it the 20th largest bus system in the country.
"They're an important part of the transit system, and it's not exactly clear where they're a complement to it or where they're a substitute," he added. "Why aren't the people relying on the vans using conventional MTA service? What is it that is not being served?"
The curious part is that while dollar vans sometimes serve communities where public transit routes don't exist—like the routes between Chinatowns—in other cases, like on Flatbush, they exist side-by-side with MTA buses. And while when they were just $1 there was a significant cost difference, when they raised prices to $2, the difference became somewhat negligible.
So why do people take them?
"It's faster and you get a seat all the time," says Juan Perez, 33, who says the trip from his Bedford-Stuyvesant home to Kings Plaza would take more than an hour and a transfer if he took the bus. On the dollar van, it's 30 minutes.