New York Court of Appeals Denies Commuter Van Entrepreneurs Their Day in Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · July 23, 2002

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, simply stating that the case is not appealable “as of right” to that court. In light of the court’s letter, the Institute for Justice is assessing its options for continuing its work to open up the New York transportation market.

“We regret the court’s unwillingness to address our clients’ efforts to secure that most fundamental aspect of the American Dream—economic liberty,” said Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice. “But as rider support for the vans swells, it’s only a matter of time before commuter vans take their rightful place in New York’s transportation network. It’s time to end the suffering inflicted on entrepreneurs and the riding public by unjust laws designed to protect the bus monopoly and the transportation unions.”

The court’s denial comes just as the van community is rallying—once again—to prevent paralysis by the striking transportation union, this time in Queens. In preparation for the current strike, Mayor Bloomberg declared a state of emergency, temporarily easing restrictions on the vans’ operations. With the vans allowed to operate uninhibited, commuters are getting to work on time, even as the strike enters its second month. In fact, the union, upset by a lack of public support, has gone to court to block Mayor Bloomberg’s order and purposely strand commuters.

By contrast, vans have ridden to the rescue of New Yorkers in every transportation crisis of the past 20 years, starting with the transportation strike of 1980 that jump-started the nascent industry. Privately operated van companies kept running when city services were shut down during the blizzard of 1996, and they provided more than 3,000 free rides to rescue workers and family members to and from Ground Zero. Despite the legal obstacles, vans carry 60,000 passengers to and from work each day for a more affordable price and with more flexibility than public transportation.

The law challenged by the Institute for Justice and van operators was enacted in 1993 by New York City and prohibited commuter van operators from picking up and dropping off passengers along any street designated as a bus route and required them to transport passengers by “prearrangement” only. Supposedly enacted for public safety reasons, those restrictions were clearly intended to make sure the vans could no longer provide convenient, inexpensive service to working families, children and students in Brooklyn and Queens.