Historical Reasons for Illegality

Public transit has never been shy about bullying the little guy. The Electric Railway Journal labeled the jitney a “Frankenstein of transportation,” and they were not alone in their discontent. In the early 1900's, municipalities taxed streetcar revenues, and as streetcar ridership decreased due to competition from jitneys, this stream of revenue was constricted. As such, municipal governments often worked with public transit to ban Jitneys.6

When public transit monopolies were unable to convince cities to ban jitneys, the pressure they pushed city governments to place on Jitney operators was enormous. In Portland, for instance, policy makers imposed expensive licensing fees and liability bonds, and mandated that jitneys run 24 hour service (impossible for a single jitney operator and tough for a small jitney company) and employ a minimum number of people (impossible for a single jitney operator).7 In addition to these advantages, public transit received and still receives subsidies, allowing public transit to charge less on routes that compete with jitneys. These measures make it almost impossible for jitneys to compete at the local level.

Still, even more measures have been taken to curtail and regulate jitney activity. In some cities, jitney owners are required to own franchises, and to do so sometimes requires a vote by the town’s citizens. Such a process makes the granting of a franchise more likely to occur as a result of good connections than of a driver’s abilities. Municipal governments also often required surety bonds, which in the nineteen teens could run as high as $10,000 per jitney. In Houston, jitney operators aren’t allowed to drive vehicles more than five years old.8 Sometimes cities even required Jitneys to transport police and firemen for free, and even restricted the speed at which jitneys could travel to reduce the edge jitneys achieved from their speedy service! On other occasions, Jitney drivers were forced to undergo literacy and even exams of (moral character). Finally, in perhaps the most blatant form of regulation, jitneys were allowed to operate only in areas that would not compete with existing public transit routes, and minimum lengths were installed for jitney drives to ensure that jitney routes would be unprofitable.6 These regulations often drove jitneys out of business, but they also occasionally resulted in jitneys being regulated into fixed-route bus systems (for more on this see “Jitneys as a fixed route busing system”).

The many restrictions placed on jitneys almost a century ago are still prevalent across the country, and so is the anti-competitive streak that characterized public transit a hundred years ago. This is evidenced by the response of public transit monopolies to the rise of jitneys in Miami in the late eighties and early nineties. Jitneys were eventually re-regulated, and the penalty for operating a jitney was a fine between $100 to $500 and ten days in jail. The reason for banning Jitneys in Miami was likely political, as in March 1983 (years before a loophole allowed jitney operation) the Miami Board of County Commissioners addressed the issue of competing private and public sector transportation, deciding to redefine jitney restrictions to ensure that jitneys never competed with public transit.