Since the eleven-day transit strike of 1980, another transportation system formed in New York’s five boroughs — a network of unauthorized shuttle vans. After the bus and subway service returned, the vans remained in service, still charging a dollar to drive locals around in places where city transit was desperately lacking. The New Yorker created a comprehensive, multi-media profile of this “shadow transit” in the “peripheral, low-income neighborhoods that contain large immigrant communities.”

Though the Taxi and Limousine Commission has been issuing van licenses since 1994, there are four hundred unlicensed vans and only eighty-one licensed ones. Reporter Aaron Reiss rode many of these shuttle routes. There’s a mile-long route along the Caribbean Edenwald neighborhood of the Bronx as well as a convoy of them roving up and down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, blaring all the latest dancehall music. There are many shuttles snaking from Eastern New Jersey into Manhattan and back. Reiss is particularly descriptive here:

A ride on a Chinatown van, on the other hand, is a relatively familiar experience for a Chinese immigrant. It could easily be a ride on a bus in rural China: tinny, saccharine pop is piped in through the van’s speakers; people chat in their local dialects about the price of cabbage. If there are more passengers than seats, people settle onto plastic stools set up in the aisle.

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