The Resilient Entrepreneur

October 1, 2002

October 2002

The Resilient Entrepreneur

By Chip Mellor

I remember vividly the first time I met Hector Ricketts. He was a center of calm in the midst of a noisy, crowded room filled with commuter van drivers from Queens and Brooklyn. The drivers were upset with the most recent harassment they’d received from the police, a practice that threatened to put them out of business. My colleagues and I were there to introduce the Institute for Justice to the drivers, and offer to represent them in their fight against unjust laws passed by the City Council at the behest of the transit workers union and the public bus companies.

Hector stood and with quiet charisma articulated the case for the drivers, expressing his vision of a professional commuter van service rightfully occupying a crucial place in New York City’s transportation network. No objective listener could have failed to be moved and inspired by his words.

From that day on we were a team dedicated to vindicating the rights of commuter van entrepreneurs. Our quest took us to court where we prevailed on the arbitrary and rigged procedures the City Council had imposed to deny commuter van applications, but not before the unionized court bureaucracy mysteriously lost our case file for more than a year. Only the tireless efforts of our local counsel Bob Getman led to its discovery deep in the bowels of an old file room. On appeal the file disappeared again, this time for good, requiring us to reassemble hundreds of pages of exhibits and briefs. Our quest also took us to City Hall where, working closely with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, we beat back new efforts by the transit workers union and City Council to crush the vans. I’ll never forget our demonstration on the steps of City Hall where several hundred van drivers and riders with signs urging the Council to “Let the Vans Roll” stood up against busloads of thick-necked, counter-demonstrators from the union.

And it took us to the front pages of major media, with particularly stirring support from editorials in The Wall Street Journal written by John Fund.

Throughout the years, Hector remained a steadfast champion for commuter vans, consumers and economic liberty. He never wavered, and brought courage and tenacity that time and again rallied the community to stand up in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Recently, we received word from New York’s highest court that our effort to strike down the law that prohibits vans from picking up or discharging passengers on designated bus routes was unsuccessful. This was a bitter blow after all these years. Having come to know Hector and other van entrepreneurs like Dennis Harry, Pat Harvey, Vincent Cummins and Lateef Ajala, I was devastated by the thought of what this decision would mean to them. Picking up the phone and calling Hector was one of the toughest calls I’ve made. Imagine how I felt when Hector heard the news and without a pause said, “Don’t worry, this won’t stop us. We will keep up the fight and one day soon, we will win. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

It’s that kind of resilience and tireless commitment to principle that makes Hector Ricketts a man I am proud to know and count as a friend. It’s true, we haven’t won yet, but Hector won’t give up, and neither will IJ. We will continue to work together to make the dreams of Hector and his fellow commuter van entrepreneurs a reality. And along the way, we will sow seeds of economic liberty that will bear fruit for years to come.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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