Blocked by Public Bus Monopoly, Van Drivers To Sue City & State of New York In Fight for Economic Liberty

John Kramer
John Kramer · February 7, 1997

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. The suit seeks to remove laws that arbitrarily prohibit the much-needed service provided by privately owned vans. New York City forces van drivers to operate in the underground economy to serve their 20,000 to 40,000 customers daily. Vans are also not allowed to operate along a public bus route. Strictly enforced regulations prohibit vans from competing with city buses and protect its inefficient and unpopular monopoly.

The lawsuit will be filed in New York State Supreme Court, New York’s trial court. The drivers and their attorneys will announce the lawsuit at a press conference on the steps of City Hall in New York City at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 11.

The Institute for Justice, a free-market public interest law firm, led similar efforts that opened long-closed taxi markets in Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati; and deregulated the cosmetology industry in Washington, D.C. The Institute recently published a series of reports examining government-imposed barriers to entrepreneurship in seven cities across the nation.

This lawsuit, as well as one filed in January on behalf of African hairbraiders in San Diego, is part of the organization’s nationwide campaign to protect economic liberty-the right of every person to earn an honest living free from excessive government regulation.

Commenting on the City Council-imposed monopoly, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani recently said on WBIS-TV, “It really is hurting a lot of people in Brooklyn and Queens who want to use alternative transportation, need it, and should have this available. It’s great competition.”

When asked about the Institute’s lawsuit, Mayor Giuliani said, “I think they are right, and in this particular case, the City is wrong.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Hector Ricketts, founder of Queens Van Plan, Inc., which provides van service in Queens. Ricketts summed up what he seeks: “We don’t want a handout. All we want is the chance to provide good service to our customers and to earn an honest living. Is that too much to ask for in America?”

Fifty-three men and women drive for Ricketts’ company, one of the few authorized van services. It was grandfathered in before tight restrictions were placed on the industry.

“Entrepreneurs like our clients should be welcomed as positive forces for their communities,” said Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor. “Instead, New York’s regulations make them economic outlaws.”

“At a time when welfare reform makes job creation a priority, New York City’s restrictions on van operators are especially intolerable because vans both put people to work and take people to work,” said Mellor, who authored a recent study, “Is New York City Killing Entrepreneurship?” The report examined how city and state regulations block honest enterprise.

Among those expected to attend the press conference is Councilmember Una S. T.-Clarke, who has for years championed van competition.

The Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. Through strategic litigation, training, and outreach, the Institute secures greater protection for individual liberty, challenges the scope and ideology of the Regulatory Welfare State, and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by William Mellor and Clint Bolick.