City Councilman I. Daneek Miller on dollar vans

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New York City Councilman I. Daneek Miller said there are a few streams of hope in the “extreme transportation desert” of southeast Queens.

Under pressure from Miller and others, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority set aside money in its budget to pilot a reduced fare system in southeast Queens and Brooklyn. By paying a yet-to-be-determined flat rate, riders could travel by bus, subway or Long Island Rail Road and make as many transfers as they’d like.

Miller said there are six LIRR stations in his and neighboring City Councilman Donovan Richards’ districts, but the commuter rail tickets are too expensive for many residents, who are forced to take much longer commutes on buses and subways. The dollar van industry has cropped up where MTA service is sparse.

“That is the biggest game-changer for so many reasons,” Miller said of the reduced fare initiative, which is expected to start in the fall. “Imagine giving people back five to 10 hours a week to their families, to their communities. You can’t quantify that.”

Additionally, Miller said the MTA is expanding a local bus depot, from which it can expand bus service; and the city Department of Transportation is undertaking a traffic study of the downtown Jamaica area, which could lead to long-needed revamps of bus routes.

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Nonetheless, Miller said dollar vans, which emerged during an MTA worker strike in the 1980s and continue to provide inexpensive, informal transportation in neighborhoods that lack robust bus and subway service, will remain needed – at least for now. So he helped pass a legislative package that will stop granting new commuter van licenses until the city completes a study of the industry and will increase the penalties levied on those who drive the vans without the proper licenses or who break traffic rules.

“The vans are a real issue here because they are the biggest affront to Vision Zero that we have in the city, by far,” Miller said, referring to the de Blasio administration’s effort to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. “We know that if we eliminate the vans, we have to have real, viable transit options. Again, we have to address it holistically.”

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