The mayor’s office has been consistent with their green transportation strategy. Their position has been, since Bloomberg’s first term, to seek new and innovative ways to transform the city into a more green concience place by proposing and implementing programs with various agencies throughout the city. From working with the DOT to transform places like Herald Square and Times Square into more pedestrian friendly spaces, to adding numerous bike lanes in all 5 boroughs, to encouraging the taxi industry to adopt Hybrid vehicles for their entire fleet by 2012, to pushing along legislation that converted all MTA buses into running on natural gas. The list is longer but the point has been made, the mayor’s office does not shy away from encouraging agencies and other municipally oriented operating bodies to find forward looking solutions to current issues.
And what the Mayor’s office in conjunction with the TLC and by default, the MTA has proposed, within that same vein of trying new and innovative solutions for current issues, is to propose a van sharing program that would attempt to give riders a means to still get to their desired destination without having to drastically change their transportation pattern. Given that the MTA was forced to reduce and cut a number of bus lines, most in the outer boroughs to balance their budget, this crisis has left many New Yorkers in a very unfortunate predicament. Some former riders, many of whom relied on certain bus lines to get them directly to their places of work, or simply to a connecting form of transportation, which would then carry them to their final destination, were left without a means to perform this task when the MTA eliminated certain bus lines. But with the introduction of the van program, the Mayors office has once again gone out on a limb and is trying it’s best to keep New York moving forward. Although the van program may not be equal to the bus lines in terms of capacity and utility, it is a solution that could resolve the issue of under-transportation for most of the riders who have been affected. It is also a program that may prove to be successful in not only helping to alleviate the current issue, but it might shed light on how the rest of the city could approach similar under served transportation populations by using shared vans as a permanent solution in certain areas. This pilot program aims to do more than address the immediate issue, it can serve as a pathway to further reaching para-transit objectives, while simultaneously beginning to answer the question of how New Yorkers might get around more efficiently in a city that is sure to increase in population as we move into the future. Even more so in future than now , the need for transportation solutions that encourage dedicated group riding networks that are capable of serving large numbers of people but doing it in a way that still serves the needs of individual without forgetting about the practical requirements of serving a large population, will need to be addressed.
Hurdles most certainly remain with regards to this van sharing program. And clearly, as observed in a number of articles that have already been written on the topic, both the TLC and the Mayor’s office are still fuzzy on the details, or another way to put it, they have not worked through the practical logistics of how this plan will be implemented on the ground. It is worth noting that this plan seeks to bring into the fold, once unregulated and disenfranchised operators who have for years been running their own unlawful van programs that when measured according to demand, have been wildly successful in serving many of the same people that this van sharing program is targeting. The people of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have for years been serviced by these “dollar vans” but the downside has often been that these vans are less safe due to a lack of oversight and are not sanctioned by the city and are thus subject to punitive reprisals by the powers that be. So in a very interesting way, because the Mayor’s office and the TLC may come to depend on some of these underground operators to actually make their pilot work, there is a real opportunity for both sides to strike a deal that may lead to a healthy and productive new industry that is born out of a mutually beneficial relationship that brings both bodies closer together, instead of keeping each other at arms length, which has been the status quo for as long as anyone can remember. As i see it, the hard part is constructing a new idea that can stand up to scrutiny. The easy part is finding a way to make it work. In my opinion, the hard part is done, now comes the easy part! Here is to a successful van sharing pilot.