Jitneys as a fixed route busing system

There have been several instances in which jitneys have been regulated into fixed route busing systems, yet have retained the label of “jitney.” In the original sense of a jitney, these are not jitneys, as these operate exclusively on a fixed route. This section will discuss the three large urban areas in which Jitneys are legal on the basis of fixed route operations; namely (1) Atlantic City, (2) Miami, and (3) San Diego.

It’s fitting that we should discuss Atlantic City first, as this city takes a great deal of pride in its fixed-route jitney busses. As the Atlantic City Jitney Association website (Jitneys.net) explains, Atlantic City’s jitney busses operate on four fixed routes, and on four fixed routes only. Some might argue that these jitneys are in fact akin to the jitneys of old on the grounds that they operate without a set schedule. In reality, the jitney busses operate in a restricted area of Atlantic City, and there are so many busses serving this area that the busses tend to arrive every 2-3 minutes, making a schedule impractical.16 Also, since the jitney busses don’t deviate from the short, standard routes they are assigned, the small freedom of operating without a schedule is negligible compared to the freedoms jitneys capture operating on an unregulated basis, and thus should not be the defining element of what a jitney is; that honor should belong to unfixed routes. In addition, even if the argument that the modern jitney busses of Atlantic City were comparable to the jitneys of old were credible, the great benefits that jitneys yield are derived in large part from their ability to travel unregulated routes, as we can see in our next example, Miami.

In the early nineties jitneys were accidentally legalized in Miami, where they grew to carry roughly 20% of public transit’s average weekday ridership17 until they were regulated into a fixed route bussing system (for the incredible successes jitneys achieved in Miami see the above section, “Legality at the city level”). The series of events that led to the regulation of jitneys in Miami is a unique one; in 1992 Hurricane Andrew struck Miami and the city set aside $46 million dollars to contract jitneys at $15-21 per hour to provide transportation for Miami residents who had lost their residences and had no transportation. As a result, within two weeks jitneys were operating 12 fixed routes in Dade county on behalf of the state.17 After this point, further regulations and requirements were imposed on jitneys until they operated in basically the same manner as a fixed-route busing system. Today, jitneys operate along 21 fixed routes in Miami, where jitney drivers must operate only in certain hours and cannot overlap with Metrobus’ routes more than 30%.17 In other words, the once highly effective Miami jitneys have now been regulated into a fixed-route system in little competition with Metrobus.

San Diego is yet another case where jitneys were made legal for a brief period before being regulated into a fixed-route busing system. In 1979, San Diego legalized its jitney services, and over the next four years, 100 vehicles served approximately 15,000 weekly.17 San Diego’s jitneys were rather unique in that they operated primarily in “commercial strips, military bases and the tourist's spots, and transported people from the downtown to the airport at a price that was one-fourth the price of a taxi cab”17. In the 1980’s, unregulated jitneys met their demise in San Diego, when San Diego’s city officials stopped issuing jitney licenses and began to regulate the jitney market. This regulation and subsidized public transit eventually combined to force the collapse of the jitney market. Today, only 14 jitney busses serve San Diego, and jitneys are required to “file their fixed route [s] and fare[s] with the taxicab administration.”17 Just as in Miami and Atlantic City, the jitney busses that operate in San Diego are a long way from the jitneys of a century ago.

Today a bevy of overlapping local, state and federal laws serve as barriers to jitney service in America, and although jitneys have occasionally achieved hard-fought albeit brief victories at the city-level, the fact that Atlantic City, Miami and San Diego had fairly similar responses to unregulated jitneys, despite their benefits, is fairly indicative of our nation’s preference for subsidized, regulated transit systems.

The question is whether this preference is a wise one; evidence suggests it might not be.