Anywhere that public transit fails to serve, you will find people filling the gap themselves. This is the story of the dollar van, honored now, thankfully, with a hit.
Busy Signal himself is from Jamaica, but the song focuses first on the increasingly famous dollar vans of Flatbush in Brooklyn, the city’s Little Caribbean.
For those not familiar, a dollar van is just what the name says. A little shuttle bus following a set route, picking up passengers for a small fare.
The history of dollar vans goes back more than a hundred years. Anyone from New York in the Teens and Twenties would recognize them as jitneys (for the fare that cost a nickel).
The city officially has little love for dollar vans, as StreetsBlog noted back in 2009, seeing them as unlicensed cabs or buses that eat up revenue for official city buses or licensed cabs. But that’s a salty view of things. Dollar vans fill in the gap that the city leaves behind.
You find them anywhere that a city’s public transportation doesn’t cover enough. Crossing from New Jersey into Manhattan where official buses are few and far between. Going up and down the busy Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where city buses only come sporadically and the subway isn’t close. Dollar vans beep what feels like constantly through the neighborhood.
In Flatbush, both the people driving and the people riding in dollar vans are typically from the Caribbean, so it’s no surprise there’s a Jamaican artist putting out a song about them. It’s not hard to find it playing on a sound system in Brooklyn, either.
It may seem like 2018 has been the year of the dollar van, profiled in the New York Times, the New Yorker, but course this isn’t the first time that dollar vans have gotten memorialized in song. “Dollar Van Ride” hails from 2009, when we last saw a surge in coverage about dollar vans.
Again unsurprisingly, that was in the days of the Recession, when fare hikes on official city buses and trains started to feel tougher and tougher. With the way the economy is looking, more dollar vans, then, are sure to come.