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Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 1999 /13 Kislev, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Rudy's roughhousing exposed as minority pandering --
DANNY GLOVER'S recent difficulty hailing a cab in New York City highlighted one transportation problem faced by minorities. But there is another problem that is perpetuated by the government of the city of New York --- lack of alternatives to the public transportation system.

Like other cities, New York throws barriers in the path of entrepreneurs who attempt to launch van or jitney services. When Hector Ricketts, a Jamaican immigrant and father of three children, lost his job at a hospital, he decided to start a van service. He had seen the difficulties his fellow Queens residents had in obtaining cheap, convenient transportation. People were often faced with a walk to the bus plus a transfer to the subway to get to work. Those who live in high-crime neighborhoods and must return home after dark are frightened of even a two or three block walk -- particularly women. Vans pick people up at the subway station and take them directly to their doors. And they do it for $1.00, considerably less than the public system charges.

One would suppose that in this era of welfare reform, obstacles to obtaining jobs would be cast aside with brisk efficiency. Not so.

Ricketts was able to start the Queens Van Plan Inc., which employs 53 people and transports many others to work. And Pat Harvey, a black nurse, formed the van company Pat Carrier & Sons. But these and the owners of several other van services were the lucky few. They were able to obtain their limited licenses before the law was stiffened in 1994.

Since then, most other would-be entrepreneurs have been stymied by New York's city council, which is obedient to the interests of the public employee unions, the private bus companies with city franchises and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The Institute for Justice (, a public-interest law firm, is representing Ricketts and several other minority entrepreneurs in a suit against the city. New York requires would-be van operators to obtain three different licenses. In addition to showing proof of insurance and driver competence (perfectly reasonable), van operators are also required to show that additional transportation is required by "present or future public convenience or necessity."

But surely the market should be the judge of that. If van operators are able to make a profit, then by definition they are fulfilling a public need. The New York law also forbids vans from picking up or discharging passengers on any street where public buses operate.

According to the Institute for Justice, city bureaucrats were permitted to reject applications for any or for no reason at all. Under one provision, if an application had not been approved within 180 days it was automatically rejected.

One applicant who had been rejected twice submitted statements from 938 business groups, churches, commuters and mothers with school-age children (almost all of them members of minority groups) saying that the service would enhance all of their lives. When the van service's owner, Vincent Cummins, arrived at the final city council vote on his application, he noticed that the president of the Transportation Workers Union was seated as a guest of honor. His application was rejected.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has pressured the city council to approve more applications for van licenses, and they have grudgingly obliged in a few cases. But since a new law governing licensing was passed in 1994, 98 percent of all applications have been denied. Many van services operate illegally -- making outlaws of those who wish only to provide a much-needed service.

The Institute for Justice achieved a victory in the courts when a New York judge struck down some of the provisions of the 1994 law. The judge held that the measure that automatically denies applications not granted within 180 days was unfair and, further, that the section permitting regulators to deny licenses without stating a reason was void.

The Institute for Justice is appealing, hoping to invalidate other sections of the anti-competitive law, as well. In the meanwhile, hard-working poor people from the less glamorous neighborhoods of the city can reflect that their government has chosen to keep them poor.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate