The commuter van (known as dollar van) community of drivers has struggled with the city of New York in recent years to get the same attention and respect as ride-share services, and they are ramping up their cause this fall. They’re calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to step in and make insurance costs lower for these essential, licensed transportation workers.
In the summer, industry members told am/NY that they were at risk of losing their jobs because insurance was too high. Commuter van drivers already serve those who struggle to access transportation in outer boroughs, especially elderly communities in transportation deserts, by charging less than the MTA bus would.
While regularly advocating for more affordable van insurance options from the city, they’ve received support from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Council Member Laurie Cumbo from Brooklyn, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Williams has been a supporter for years, since he was a council member representing East Flatbush, and has continued to do so at an Oct. 27 demonstration.
“Every time we make a step forward, they try to bring them back. Again, this always seems to happen primarily to Black, brown and communities of color,” said Williams, adding the drivers haven’t seen much change to insurance costs that can often add up to $30,000 per year, which is difficult to make back.
Williams will likely be running against Governor Hochul in the 2022 governor’s race. He has filed to enter, after forming an exploratory committee, but as of Nov. 4, he has yet to announce. At the demonstration, he addressed her directly. “As you’re starting to run for reelection, you should make sure that these communities are first in line because they were hardest hit,” Williams said.
In his years-long work with commuter van drivers, Williams said he found that many do not wish to be conducting their work illegally, but the difficult insurance process can often force them to try working without one. They’ve expressed negative run-ins with the NYPD as a result.
“These are responsible drivers that you’re putting in this situation,” he said.