Rather than accept public handouts after he lost his job, Hector Ricketts went into business for himself driving jitney vans. He founded Queens Van Plan, Inc., to provide much-needed reliable van service to low-income communities in New York that are isolated by inferior, expensive public transportation. Hector’s vans—and those of other small companies—not only put people to work, they take people to work.
But standing in their way are the powerful New York City public transportation unions allied with opportunistic politicians and bureaucrats. Under the unions’ influence, the New York City Council from 1994 to 1997 vetoed 98 percent of all new van licenses, keeping competition for commuters to a minimum. And for the lucky few with licenses, arbitrary regulations forbid vans from operating on the same streets as any New York City bus and from picking up passengers except by “pre-arrangement.”
In February 1997, the Institute for Justice filed suit on behalf of Hector and three other van drivers. The state trial court handed van entrepreneurs—and the commuters who rely on their service—a victory in June 1999 when it ended the City Council’s power to veto van licenses approved by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and struck down other licensing practices that limited the market. But the court upheld the arbitrary regulations that needlessly restrict vans’ operations. The appellate court affirmed that decision in March 2001 and in July 2002 the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) refused to take the case.
Hector Ricketts and other van entrepreneurs continue to serve commuters—and to battle the transportation unions and unjust laws through political means.
Dennis Harry started Rockaway Commuter Line, Inc. after he moved to Far Rockaway, New York several years ago. Immediately, he realized that his new home, a remote low-income community, lacked adequate transportation services. Far Rockaway residents have come to depend on his vans to drive them between Rockaway and Jamaica, Queens, New York.
Pat Harvey was working at a hospital but was unable to find safe transportation home from her night-shift nursing job. She had to wait up to an hour for the public bus-if it came at all. Even then, the bus stopped several blocks from her apartment, and she worried about walking home alone in the…
When Hector Ricketts lost his job as director of support services in a hospital, he was worried about how he would support his wife and three children. Instead of losing hope, however, he began to devote all of his energies to running Queens Van Plan, Inc., a company that provides van service in Queens, New…
Washington, D.C. Granting van drivers a New York City Council-approved license to provide “dollar van” service in New York’s outer boroughs will still not allowed them to compete with the city-run bus monopoly. Restrictions on vans barring them from driving along streets where public buses operate, and from picking up passengers who hail them, will…
Washington, D.C. Responding to a groundswell of support from commuter van riders, the general public and the media, the New York City Council today authorized the first commuter van line in Brooklyn. Vincent Cummins’ Brooklyn Van line received authority to operate 20 vans to transport riders throughout the borough. Cummins prevailed after having his…
Washington, D.C. The New York City Council today ignored the urgent pleas of commuter van drivers and their 40,000-plus daily passengers when it imposed a one-year moratorium on the issuance of any new so-called “dollar” van licenses in the city. Overriding a veto by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the City Council voted 35 to 9-one vote…
Washington, D.C. In the face of the strike by New York City taxicabs, which stranded large segments of the riding public, the Giuliani Administration has called upon commuter vans to fill the void. Commuter vans from Queens and Brooklyn are mobilizing to serve the airports and other key transportation sites, making sure that New Yorkers…
Washington, D.C.-Across America, entrepreneurs are finding their right to earn an honest living under attack by state and local governments. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our nation’s economic capital, New York City. On Wednesday, September 16, 1998 at 2:15 p.m. a lawsuit representative of this struggle will be heard before the Honorable Justice…
Washington, D.C.-The ill-conceived and illegal one-year moratorium on new van licenses imposed by New York’s City Council is set to expire on October 29, 1998, and according to City Council spokeswoman Bernice Spitzer, the lawmakers will not renew it. But even after this restriction is lifted, van drivers still will face excessive regulations purposefully designed…
Washington, D.C.-After fighting every attempt to expand the commuter van industry and vetoing more than 90 percent of new operators’ applications, New York’s City Council has at last acknowledged the need for additional van service in New York City. The City Council’s report, which reportedly calls for an additional 141 vans, is little more than…
Washington, D.C.-The Institute for Justice announced today that New York commuter van operators won a significant victory for economic liberty in the New York State Supreme Court-the state’s trial court. The Court ruled last week that the City Council may not veto van operator licenses approved by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.…
Washington, D.C.-The government-imposed monopoly enjoyed by New York City’s public buses may well be coming to the end of the line. On Tuesday, February 11, 1997, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice will file suit against the City and State of New York on behalf of commuter van drivers from Brooklyn and Queens, New York.…
Washington, D.C.—In a letter dated July 9, the New York Court of Appeals denied the Institute for Justice and its clients, commuter van entrepreneurs, the opportunity to appeal a lower court decision protecting the city’s public bus monopoly from competition by the “dollar” vans. The court offered no elaboration on the merits of the case,…
License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing is the first national study to measure how burdensome occupational licensing laws are for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs. The report documents the license requirements for 102 low- and moderate-income occupations—such as barber, massage therapist and preschool teacher—across all 50 states and the District…
On February 11, 1997, the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court seeking to end the laws that arbitrarily prohibit hard-working men and women from providing safe, efficient and inexpensive, van service to passengers who hail them from the street ("on-demand") in Brooklyn and Queens. These laws unconstitutionally restrict the ability of bootstraps capitalists to earn an honest living and deny Brooklyn and Queens residents access to adequate transportation.
New York's hostility toward van services is ironic in light of the current necessity of moving people from welfare to work. Ever since Congress passed the federal welfare reform law last year, state and city governments face the daunting task of finding gainful employment for millions of people. The problem is particularly acute in New York City, where some ten percent of the population receives public assistance. (Three out of four of New York State's welfare recipients live in New York City. ) Yet, even as the debate about how to accomplish this task reaches a boiling point, the City Council obstinately refuses to allow van services to operate legally-despite the fact that van services both put people to work and take people to work.
The ramifications of this lawsuit extend far beyond New York City. Van or "jitney" services are heavily regulated or banned outright in most U.S. cities. As in New York, these regulations far exceed legitimate public health and safety objectives, and operate instead to exclude newcomers and to protect entrenched transportation providers from competition. As a result, many poor people lack affordable, reliable, community-based transportation. The Americans most harmed by these rules are those struggling to gain a toehold on the first rung of the economic ladder-both the would-be entrepreneurs and the customers who are left without reliable transportation.
When Hector Ricketts lost his job as director of support services in a hospital five years ago, he was worried about how he would support his wife and three young children. Instead of losing hope, however, he began to devote all of his energies to running Queens Van Plan, Inc., a company that provides van service in Queens, New York. He also became a community leader, serving as the President of the Interborough Alliance for Community Transportation, and an outspoken advocate for community-based transportation services. Today, 53 men and women make a living driving Queens Van Plan vans, and thousands more depend on his vans for reliable and secure transportation services. But when he and his drivers pick up and discharge riders, they find themselves branded outlaws.
A few years ago, Pat Harvey was also working at a hospital; only she had slightly different concerns than Hector Ricketts. She was unable to find safe transportation home from her night-shift nursing job. She had to wait up to an hour for the public bus-if it came at all. Even then, the bus stopped several blocks from her apartment, and she worried about walking home alone in the dark. Out of concern for her safety, Harvey purchased a van and began transporting herself and her co-workers to and from their jobs. Her inability to secure safe transportation alerted her to the hardship caused by the inadequacies of mass transit in Queens, so she purchased more vans and began to provide transportation for her neighbors. Unfortunately, the authorization under which her company, Pat Carrier & Sons, Inc., operates does not permit her company to provide the service that those neighbors need.
Dennis Harry started Rockaway Commuter Line, Inc. after he moved to Far Rockaway, New York several years ago. Immediately, he realized that his new home, a remote low-income community, lacked adequate transportation services. Today, Far Rockaway residents have come to depend on his 21 vans to drive them between Rockaway and Jamaica, Queens, New York. But, like Hector Ricketts and Pat Harvey, he cannot legally provide the service that his customers need.
In one sense, Hector Ricketts, Pat Harvey, and Dennis Harry are all lucky. At least they successfully obtained government approval for their companies before the current laws regulating van services were passed. Even with this approval, they are allowed to provide only limited call-and-respond service-a far cry from the service that their customers need and demand. But Vincent Cummins, like many other industrious individuals, has not been able to secure even that approval. Five years ago, he needed to supplement his machinist's salary to pay his daughter's college tuition. (She wants to become a doctor.) So, he started operating Brooklyn Van Lines along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. Unfortunately, although he has applied for authorization three times, has met all the requirements, has demonstrated that his service is needed, and has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees, Mr. Cummins has been unable to secure the required government authorization.
Together with other van service operators and drivers, these individuals make up the Interborough Alliance for Community Transportation. In their own words, the Alliance is a group of "hardworking men and women, like the people who use our service and form our customer base. We are trying to provide for our families by offering a much-needed public service. We are trying desperately to stay off public assistance rolls. We come from communities and traditions that value individual enterprise and effort and that work hard at being self-sufficient." The organization is dedicated to protecting its members' basic right to earn an honest living and to helping members serve their communities by securing a legitimate place for van service in New York City.
These bootstraps capitalists have two important things in common. First, their vans provide an invaluable service, charging passengers one dollar for short trips in Brooklyn and Queens. Second, their competitors-the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, private bus companies with City franchises, and the union representing public transportation workers-want them off the road. And, these forces have used their sizable political clout to accomplish this goal, convincing the state legislature and City Council to pass laws that relegate people like Hector Ricketts to the permanent status of economic outlaws.
The current legal regime delivers a one-two punch against van services. First, although there is a process on the books that supposedly allows aspiring entrepreneurs to obtain required government authorization for their services, the City routinely refuses to authorize new commuter van services. Second, even van services that have the required authorization, like Ricketts' Queens Van Plan, operate under onerous restrictions that, in practice, totally prohibit the service customers demand and desperately need. The individuals who depend on van services want to be picked up at central locations (such as subway stops and shopping centers) and driven safely home. For instance, during rush hour, thousands of people pour out of subways and buses needing van service. Calling for a pick-up is impossible. Yet, current law requires vans to operate only on the basis of pre-arrangement. In other words, unless customers request service in advance, it is illegal for a van to pick them up. And the law prohibits vans from operating on any bus route. This essentially drives them off every major street in the City.
The Value of Van Services
Community-based van transportation services benefit Brooklyn and Queens residents in two important ways. They supplement New York City's inadequate mass transit system and they provide a valuable source of jobs.
Social scientists and poverty experts have long observed that economic and social isolation contribute mightily to the plight of America's urban poor. Jobs are scarce in most inner cities, forcing residents to travel considerable distances to secure employment. For these individuals, simply getting to work is often a major challenge because, in many lower-income communities, dependable transportation is as scarce as jobs. Taxis are virtually non-existent, and automobiles are prohibitively expensive. Residents must depend on public transportation, which is notoriously sporadic and unreliable. In the wake of the race riots during the late 1960s, a reporter observed that "transportation out of the ghetto to areas of employment is inadequate at best and often simply non-existent. . . .Clearly, before one can speak of employment opportunities for ghetto residents, one has to deal with their lack of transportation opportunities." This fact led the federal Kerner Commission to argue for "better transportation between ghetto neighborhoods and new job locations.
In his recent book, When Work Disappears, economist William Julius Wilson suggested that private van services could help remedy the inadequacies of public transportation. Wilson echoed scores of critics of the regulations that restrict competition and enshrine most city's mass transit monopoly. A 1984 report by the Federal Trade Commission found that there was no "economic justification for regulations that restrict shared-ride. . .jitney services" and that such regulations "impose a disproportionate impact on low income people."
Social scientists such as Wilson argue that the needs of poor communities can only be addressed with a massive influx of federal subsidies. But the success of private van services in Brooklyn and Queens provides a wonderful example of private individuals taking the initiative without a penny from the government to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Each day, in Brooklyn and Queens, 20,000 to 40,000 people depend on van services-more than the volume of all but a handful of cities' entire public bus systems. Many of the neighborhoods served by van services are poor, and almost all are "two-fare zones." That is, commuters must first secure transportation to subway stops or central bus terminals, and then take mass transit to Manhattan or other central business areas. In these neighborhoods, vans are often the only dependable transportation for the essential first leg of the trip to work. Donald Vernon, coordinator of the Far Rockaway Development Revitalization Corporation, explained the importance of vans to his isolated, poor community as follows: "We have a plan for full employment in Far Rockaway, but people can't work unless they can get to work. Van services like [plaintiff] Rockaway Commuter Line provide the only reliable transportation between our community and jobs. "
Even if New York increased the volume of buses serving Brooklyn and Queens, many residents would still prefer to use vans. Because they are constrained to fixed routes, even the best-run public bus system would lack the flexibility of private van services. For many people, van services' flexibility makes them vastly superior to publicly-subsidized buses. As one van customer explained, "I take the vans when I am late for work, because I might have to wait up to an hour for the bus, and then it makes so many stops along the way. The van takes me straight to work."
This flexibility offers residents another important advantage: safety. Van operators will take passengers to their doors. This extra service is invaluable in many New York neighborhoods at night, particularly for women. Several years ago, van passenger Sheri Forrest explained this important benefit to the City Council's Transportation Committee:
I live alone, and as a woman living alone, safety is a major concern, especially in those dangerous moments when I arrive home [after dark]. . . .The van takes me directly to my door. They wait until I go into my house. [W]ithout van service, I would have to wait hours for the bus, and then walk several blocks from the bus stop to my house.
Her concerns were echoed in a recent report published the Journal of Black Studies, which observed that "transportation becomes a problem for lower socioeconomic women who must frequently use public transportation. This is an inconvenient and sometimes dangerous means of getting to work."
In addition to supplementing an inadequate public transportation network, van services also offer promise of economic opportunity for many New Yorkers. Because it requires little formal education or capital, operating a van service provides an ideal entrepreneurial opportunity for people at the bottom of the economic ladder. The experiences of Hector Ricketts, Vincent Cummins, Pat Harvey, and Dennis Harry all demonstrate how determined individuals who are willing to work hard should be able to support themselves and their families while providing a service to their communities. And this after a relatively small up-front investment.
Van services also provide jobs for drivers who might otherwise be unemployed. Currently, thousands of hard-working men and women earn a living driving vans in Brooklyn and Queens. Nearly 100 people depend on the van services operated by the plaintiffs in this litigation for their livelihood. Many of these individuals began driving vans rather than turn to public assistance. When George Gayle lost his job as a construction worker, he began driving a van because "I did not want to sell drugs. I did not want to rob someone. I didn't want to go on welfare. I wanted something to do." These men and women, who are willing to work hard rather than take a handout, are true American heroes. Yet the law makes them pariahs.
The City Council's objections to vans all ring hollow. First, van opponents argue that vans "steal" passengers from city buses. But surely the proper response to public bus service's difficulty competing with private enterprise should be to improve bus service, not to use its coercive power to eliminate competition, thus leaving passengers with no alternatives. Second, opponents complain that many services do not pay taxes and are not properly insured. Again, however, this situation results from the fact that the City refuses to allow the services to operate legally, thereby driving them underground. Finally, van opponents characterize the services as "reckless" and unsafe. But, the City's insistence that buses offer a safe alternative to van services is significantly weakened by the MTA's abysmal safety record. An audit by the State Comptroller found that the MTA's 3,669 buses had 5,609 accidents in 1993 alone and that the agency consistently failed to investigate accidents properly or to punish or retrain drivers.
Mayor Giuliani, much to his credit, has expressed his support for vans, indicating that they deserve the right to compete for passengers with the public buses. The Mayor's efforts, and the efforts of van-supporter Councilwoman Una Clarke, have fallen on deaf ears. Despite the need for the services and the jobs they provide, the City Council remains unapologetically opposed vans. This opposition is a sad example of government placing the demands of entrenched and powerful special interests over the needs of deserving constituents.
Background: Van Service in New York City & The Nation
Van services first appeared in large numbers in New York City in 1980, when strikes by public transportation workers ground the city to a halt. Almost overnight, industrious New Yorkers, primarily from the City's Caribbean communities, stepped forward to fill the void with inexpensive van service. After the strike ended, the City government expected the vans to fade away. But the van service providers and their customers had different ideas. It quickly became clear that vans had an integral place in the City's transportation system. (The 1980 strike is not the only time that van services have saved the day. When blizzards crippled New York City in the winter of 1996, nearly all City services were canceled. But van services stayed on the road and rescued thousands of stranded people. )
Until a few years ago, the New York State Department of Transportation regulated the vans. Although the process for obtaining government approval was tedious and expensive, the Department of Transportation regularly approved new van companies, but only to provide limited prearranged service. Competition from even this modest and limited service was entirely unacceptable to New York City's entrenched mass transportation interests. In 1993, these forces used their clout to lobby the state legislature to pass a law allowing the City of New York to take over the task of regulating van services. This law gave the public transportation interests the power to stop vans virtually at-will, requiring the City to impose severe restrictions on vans that make it impossible for them to legally compete for passengers.
In 1994, the public transportation interests again flexed their considerable political muscle, this time convincing the New York City Council to pass an even harsher anti-van law. This law permits only extremely limited call-and-respond service but not the on-demand service that residents need. It also prohibits vans from operating on all public bus routes, making essentially all main thoroughfares off limits for vans, and creates a virtually unlimited series of procedural hoops for would-be van services.
The City law requires individuals who want to provide even this limited "commuter van" service to first obtain three separate types of licenses. The process by which would-be entrepreneurs must seek City approval is a complicated regulatory maze that almost always ends up with the same unreviewable result-application denied. (See attached flow chart of application process.) In addition to showing that the service is insured and drivers are competent and trustworthy, the applicant must prove that additional service is required by the "present or future public convenience and necessity." This standard creates a presumption in favor of existing companies and places on an applicant the burden of assembling an unspecified amount of evidence to be evaluated with unbridled discretion by the administrative agency. Although under the Giuliani administration the agency has looked more favorably on van services, this standard would provide a more hostile administration with the authority to deny van applications with impunity.
Finally, the law gives public bus companies undue influence over the outcome of the application process. Any bus company threatened with competition by the applicant has the right to object to the authorization. If that happens, and it always does, the applicant must show that the existing mass transit system is inadequate. The law, however, fails to set forth any criteria or standards by which to measure the "adequacy" of mass transit.
Throughout the application process, City bureaucrats have unfettered discretion to deny an application for any reason, or for no reason at all. The City need not offer any guidance about what information an application should contain, nor is it required to explain why an unsuccessful application was denied. In fact, the Taxi & Limousine Commission (the City agency charged with issuing authorizations) can deny an application by simply doing nothing for 180 days after an application is submitted, even if an applicant proves that his service is necessary. Finally, even if an entrepreneur secures the agency's approval, the City Council retains the right to veto an application. And because public transportation interests exert an inordinate amount of influence over the City Council, it usually exercises this option.
Most applicants are left baffled and frustrated. For example, plaintiff Vincent Cummins has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees seeking the required authorization three times. The Taxi and Limousine Commission initially approved his last two applications and then withdrew approval. For his most recent application, 938 business groups, churches, commuters, and mothers with school children submitted statements that his service was necessary. Then the Transportation Committee of the City Council voted to deny it. At that point, the Taxi and Limousine Commission withdrew its approval, apparently due to pressure by the MTA and unions. (When Cummins arrived for the final City Council vote on his application, he found the president of the Transportation Workers Union seated as a guest of honor.)
Since the City took over the job of regulating vans in 1994, the vast majority of applications submitted to the Taxi and Limousine Commission have been rejected. The TLC has approved a couple of dozen largely because of pressure from Mayor Giuliani. However, City Council influence has led to veto of all but five of those approved, allowing a total of just 20 new vans. In fact, practically all of the legal commuter van services received their authorizations from the state government before the 1994 law was passed. This situation worries van service operators like plaintiffs Hector Ricketts, Pat Harvey, and Dennis Harry, whose services were authorized by the state. These operators must reapply for authorization in 2002, and they believe that their applications will be denied. If that happens, they will be prohibited from providing even limited call-and-respond service and effectively run out of business.
The restrictions on authorized vans and the application bottleneck has turned thousands of hard working entrepreneurs into outlaws. The City government is well aware that authorized van services like Hector Ricketts' Queens Van Plan illegally operate on the bus routes and provide on-demand service for thousands of passengers daily. Periodic police harassment raises the cost of doing business for operators, but does not dampen their enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the City tacitly recognizes that vans provide an essential service by failing to take effective steps to curtail completely unauthorized vehicles.
The history of jitney service nationwide provides an excellent illustration of why economic liberty-the basic right to earn an honest living in a chosen occupation without arbitrary government interference-is so important. Before jitneys emerged, urban transit was provided solely by electric street railways. After L.P. Draper began his jitney service in Los Angeles in 1914, however, the face of urban transportation changed, at least temporarily.
An economic downturn during the First World War left many men unemployed or underemployed. Some invested their life savings in a Model T automobile and began picking up passengers along street car lines for a nickel (or a "jitney" as it was called). Operating jitneys gave them a chance to earn a living and provide for their families. Jitneys provided more rapid and efficient service than streetcars. (At 15 miles per hour, they traveled up to 200 percent faster than streetcars. ) Most jitneys stayed on designated routes; others drove passengers to their doors.
Jitneys flourished in cities across the nation, spreading quickly after their appearance in Los Angeles in 1914. In some cities, hundreds of jitneys emerged within a few weeks. By 1915, more than 60,000 jitneys served 175 cities. Jitneys' great success in the early Twentieth Century was largely attributable to dissatisfaction with the electric streetcar. Passengers resented the fact that the companies that owned streetcars-many of whom lived outside their communities-took their customers for granted. As a monopoly, the streetcars tended to ignore customer needs, and, as cities grew, increasing numbers of passengers made for long, uncomfortable trips. Jitneys, on the other hand, were seen as "a liberating new form of transportation for the common man," because they did not make frequent, long stops like streetcars. In some cases, jitneys appeared during streetcar workers' strikes. When the strikes ended, the jitneys remained because they offered a service customers demanded.
As jitneys became increasingly successful, streetcar companies saw their profits spiral downward, and they began a concerted effort to eliminate jitneys' competitive threat. Eventually, streetcar companies used their clout to pass legislation restricting jitneys, including caps on the number of jitneys, substantial licensing fees, and even outright prohibitions. These laws made it increasingly difficult to provide jitney service. By the mid-1920s, jitneys had virtually disappeared from the streets of American cities.
The Importance of Economic Liberty
After the Civil War, economic liberty was one of the civil rights most cherished by newly-emancipated slaves. Yet southern governments acted quickly to suppress economic opportunities by enacting laws that made it difficult or impossible for black Americans to earn a livelihood. The federal government acted to curtail these abuses by passing first the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and then the Fourteenth Amendment, both of which sought to protect economic liberty among the "privileges or immunities of citizenship" that states were prohibited from violating.
In the 1872 Slaughterhouse Cases, however, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially read the "privileges or immunities clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment out of the Constitution. This decision gave states a virtual carte-blanche to enact the shameful Jim Crow era laws that restricted opportunities for black Americans. Ever since, states have imposed onerous and arbitrary restrictions on occupations. These restrictions often far exceed those needed to protect public health and safety, sometimes going so far as to prohibit certain legitimate occupations altogether.
A rule of law that better reflects the original understanding of the constitutional limits on government power, however, would require a closer ends-means fit between the government interest and the regulation used to address that interest. For instance, regulations requiring vans to be safe, insured and driven by competent drivers would be appropriate. The current legal regime goes far beyond this.
Recognizing the need for an ends-means fit, a federal court in 1994 struck down a Houston law prohibiting jitneys from operating on city streets. The court found that the ban on jitneys bore no reasonable relationship to legitimate health and safety considerations and that it unconstitutionally infringed on Alfredo Santos' right to earn a livelihood.
In 1995, the Colorado legislature deregulated Colorado's taxi cab industry in response to an Institute for Justice lawsuit on behalf of four minority entrepreneurs who challenged Denver's 50-year-old ban on new taxi companies. Today, just two years after it opened for business, Institute for Justice client Leroy Jones' and his partners' Freedom Cabs is a thriving Denver business that employs more than 100 people. In addition to Denver, the Institute also led the way to open taxi markets in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and it helped strike down the District of Columbia's cosmetology regulations as they applied to African hairbraiders.
As part of its nationwide strategic plan to protect individuals' right to economic liberty, in January 1997 the Institute for Justice also filed a lawsuit in San Diego challenging California's cosmetology licensing statute and regulations on behalf of practitioners of African hair-braiding and other forms of natural hairstyling. The cosmetology laws needlessly sti-fle job and entre-preneur-ial opportunities and suppress a vibrant means of cultural expression. This lawsuit direct-ly addresses the bound-aries of state power to regulate entry into businesses and profes-sions.
The Institute for Justice challenges arbitrary legal restrictions on behalf of entry-level entrepreneurs struggling to pursue their American dreams. Our ultimate goal is to restore economic liberty as a fundamental civil right by overturning the Slaughter-House Cases in the U.S. Supreme Court.
This lawsuit by the Institute for Justice goes to the very core of cherished constitutional values: the right of individuals to earn an honest living. The plaintiffs ask for nothing more than the opportunity to provide a desperately-needed transportation service for their neighbors. Yet the laws of the State and City of New York erect impossible barriers to their aspiration.
The plaintiffs ask the court to declare that those barriers violate their due process rights protected by Article I, section 6 of the New York Constitution and the privileges or immunities protection of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The laws regulating van services infringe on their basic right to earn an honest living because they are unrelated to any legitimate public health and safety concerns, but rather were passed to bestow a competitive advantage upon powerful economic interests, namely, the MTA, bus companies, and the transportation workers unions. If successful, the lawsuit will establish a precedent that will give hope to aspiring entrepreneurs that America remains a land of opportunity.
The lead attorney in this case for the Institute for Justice is President and General Counsel William "Chip" Mellor, who led the efforts, discussed above, to open up the taxi markets in Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He is the author of a 1996 report, "Is New York City Killing Entrepreneurship," which examined government-imposed barriers to honest enterprise, and has written opinion features for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. He is joined in this work by Institute for Justice Staff Attorney Nicole S. Garnett, who recently authored a piece on the New York commuter vans in the Daily News. Joining the Institute for Justice as able pro bono local counsel is Mark Lane.
This document was prepared by Chip Mellor and Nicole Garnett for the Institute for Justice.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with the Institute for Justice and its clients, please contact:
John E. Kramer, Director of Communications
Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203
Phone: (703) 682-9320
Fax: (703) 682-9321
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, "The Morning Show," WBIS-TV, New York, Jan. 23, 1997,
(commenting on the laws restricting van services in New York).
. "Van and Car Service Issues Affecting the NYCTA Surface Operations," NYC Metropolitan
Transit Authority, Jan. 1992, p. 7.
. New York's state trial court is called the "Supreme Court."
. William H. Mellor, "No Jobs, No Work," New York Times, Aug. 31, 1996, p. A21.
. William H. Mellor, Is New York Killing Entrepreneurship, Institute for Justice 1996; see
also "The Neediest Cases," New York Times, Dec. 1, 1996, p. 47.
. "Welfare Plan Gives Power to Localities," New York Times, Nov. 15, 1996, p. B1.
. Promotional Literature of Interborough Alliance for Community Transportation.
. Rules of the City of New York § 9-11 (Lenz & Reiker 1996).
. For a recent discussion of these problems, see William Julius Wilson, When Work
Disappears pp. 1-51 (1996)
. See Kevin Holmes, Focus Group Study of Van Riders in Brooklyn for City Councilwoman Una S. T.-Clarke, Feb. 1993.
. See Jean Love, "Mass Transit: A Barren Promise," Across the Board, July 1992, p. 42.
. Sandi Rosenbloom, "Taxis, Jitneys, and Poverty," Trans-action, Feb. 1970, p. 48.
. Report on the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, quoted in James V.
Cornehls & Delbert Taebel, "The Outsiders of Urban Transportation," 13 Soc. Science
Journal p. 63 (1976).
. Wilson, supra, p. 224.
. See C. Kenneth Orski, "Redesigning Local Transportation Service" in Urban Transportation
p. 267, Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research 1985; Jean Love, "It's Time to Get the
Government Out of Mass Transit," USA Today Magazine, Nov. 1993, p. 12; Melvin M.
Webber, "Can Mass Transit Survive the Private Car," Mass Transit, March 1995, p. 24;
Martin Mogridge, "No More Mean Streets," New Statesman and Society, Sept. 1, 1995, p. 25.
. Mark W. Frankena and Paul Pautler, "An Economic Analysis of Taxicab Regulation,"
Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Economics Staff Report, May 1984, p. 155.
. Howard Husock, "Enterprising Van Drivers Collide with Regulation," City Journal, Winter
1996, p. 62.
. Telephone Interview, Nov. 1996.
. Interview with Far Rockaway resident, Jan. 21, 1997.
. Testimony of Sheri Forest before New York City Council Transportation Committee,
Nov. 6, 1993.
. Ernest Spaights & Ann Whitaker, "Black Women in the Workforce," 25 Journal of Black
Studies p. 288 (1995).
. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has observed that van service "has the potential to invigorate and
revitalize many communities, by promoting individual entrepreneurship along with creating
significant numbers of jobs." Remarks at public hearing on local law, Dec. 23, 1996.
. "It's Time to Get the Government Out of Mass Transit," U.S.A. Today Magazine, Nov. 1993,
. For a general discussion of this topic, see Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions (1980).
. "Vans Vie Illegally for New York Bus Riders," New York Times, Jan. 24, 1992, p. A1.
. New York State Comptroller, NYMTA, New York City Transit Bus and Station Accidents
(1995); Paul Moses, "Audit Finds TA Soft on Poor Drivers," Newsday, Nov. 15, 1995, p. A5;
see also, James Dao, "Audit Says Transit Agency Ignored Worst Drivers," New York Times,
Nov. 15, 1995, p. B4.
. Jared McCalister, "Dollar Vans Go the Distance in Blizzard," Daily News, Jan. 14,
1996, p. 16.
. N.Y. Transportation Law § 80(5).
. Rules of the City of New York §§ 9-10, 9-11.
. Id. § 9-02.
. Nicole Garnett, "Council Runs Over Van Man's Dream," Daily News, Dec. 16, 1996.
. See generally George W. Hilton, "The Rise and Fall of Monopolized Transit" in Urban
Transit pp. 34-40 (1985).
. "The New Jitney Jungle," Forbes, Nov. 15, 1975, p. 78.
. Ross D. Eckert and George W. Hilton, "The Jitneys," 15 Journal of Law & Economics p. 296
. Carlos A. Schwantes, "The West Adapts to the Automobile: Technology, Unemployment,
and the Jitney Phenomenon of 1914-1917," Western Historical Quarterly, July 1985, p. 308.
. "The New Jitney Jungle," Forbes, Nov. 15, 1975, p. 78.
. Schwantes, supra, p. 310.
. United Traction Co. v. Smith, 115 Misc. 74 (1921) (Jitneys emerged in Albany, New York as
the result of a mass transit strike).
. Schwantes, supra, pp. 321-22.
. Eckert & Hilton, supra, p. 322.
. Clint Bolick, Unfinished Business (1992); see also Michael Kent Curtis, No State Shall
Abridge pp. 175-77 (1986).
. Legal scholars' condemnation of the Slaughter-House Cases is nearly universal. See, e.g.,
David Richards, Conscience and the Constitution pp. 204-17 (1993); Akhil Reed Amar, "The
Bill of Rights and the Constitution," 100 Yale Law Journal pp. 1466-69 (1992); William E.
Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine pp.
. Santos v. City of Houston, 852 F. Supp. 601 (1994).