Your behavior appears to be a little unusual. Please verify that you are not a bot.

GIS and Transportation 1930-2011

January 12, 2011  - By 0 Comments

By Art Kalinski, GISP

Looming budget cuts, the uproar against grossly overpaid “public servants” such as in Belle, California, and the growing number of accidents involving elderly drivers have encouraged me to get up on my soapbox in hopes that some of you in the GIS and transportation communities can advance an old idea that may now be right for our time. How are the three events related? They are related to a suggestion I proposed at a planning meeting while serving as a GIS manager at a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) – Jitneys.  To my surprise, I was dressed down for suggesting such a heretical idea. Below it the write up I submitted.

Jitneys Are a 2-8% Solution to SOVs (Sep 2006)
Jitney (jit’ne) n.  An operator-owned vehicle that carries one or more passengers for hire, from and to multiple door-to-door locations using the most economical variable route based on the needs of the different passengers and the skill of the driver to meet those needs. The word “Jitney” is an old English slang term for a nickel, which was the cost of a ride when Jitneys became popular in the 1930s. In other countries Jitneys are called: dabas, domus, jeepneys, tap taps, and many other names.

Pundits say that we are in an environmental crisis, driven by use of single occupant vehicles (SOVs). We want clean air, easy commutes, low taxes with sustainable economic growth. We struggle with encouraging alternatives to SOVs (mass transit, grid road systems, land use mandates, HOV lanes, bike paths) but let’s face facts: The “genie is out of the bottle.” Most cities have evolved into regions shaped by SOVs and nothing short of draconian measures will change that. Perhaps it is time to reconsider an old transportation alternative that could reduce SOV trips 2 to 8 percent — Jitneys.

Jitneys sprung up in major cities in the 1930s. Typically they were four-door sedans driven by the owner with only the word “JITNEY” painted on the door. Anyone who had a vehicle could become an entrepreneur transporting one or more people for a modest fee. It became a convenient and affordable way for many people to get around. Jitney impact was so significant that special interest groups lobbied to have them outlawed. In 1931 jitneys reduced Los Angeles trolley car use by 25 percent. The trolleys were ultimately displaced by highways and SOVs, which then evolved into the familiar picture of SOV gridlock.

A major impediment cited by most users to the use of mass transit is getting to and from the transit stop. In high-density locations such as New York City, almost everyone is within two blocks of a transit stop. That is not the case in most other cities, and everyone agrees that it may take decades to change. Most cities have transportation gaps that are being inefficiently filled by SOVs. Low-density communities are not suited for mass transit, and our cul-de-sac and shopping center neighborhoods force the use of SOVs for even the smallest errands. Since most of us have no alternative to SOVs, Jitneys might be able to fill that niche.

Jitneys could fill the gaps efficiently with no additional taxes needed for new roads or transit. They could solve an Economic Justice (EJ) issue by providing affordable transportation for low wage workers or the elderly. The collective efficiency of jitneys carrying 2-4 passengers (the ultimate car pool) would reduce pollution and the total number of cars on the road. The use of jitneys is a self-correcting system that requires no overarching management system, just natural, local supply and demand. A side employment benefit would be the small business opportunities that would be created for jitney owner/drivers.


  • No taxes needed for additional mass transit or additional roads.
  • Very efficient since the Jitney system works on supply and demand with a driver who is motivated to minimize wasted seats, mileage, gas, and idle time while maximizing his profit and service to the customer.
  • Should reduce SOV traffic 2 to 8 percent.
  • As a small-scale feeder service, Jitneys may increase the use of mass transit such as commuter rail and bus rapid transit.
  • Should reduce air pollution.
  • Should reduce the need for CBD additional parking.
  • Could eliminate the need for second or third cars in many families, which may have a corresponding effect on mortgage qualification.
  • Would solve some EJ issues, providing convenient transportation that is affordable for low-income workers and empowering those that are most dependent.
  • Jitney drivers become recognized members of their local community by providing personalized service, such as helping the elderly to the car, which fosters a greater sense of “community.”
  • Jitneys already operate successfully in many cities such as San Diego, Miami, the Hispanic community in Atlanta and New York where a jitney (gypsy cab) ride costs $1.
  • Since service is door-to-door there is a greater perception of safety, especially at night.
  • Jitneys provide a safe and convenient transportation alternative for the elderly who at some point should not drive and/or who can’t walk 3-4 blocks to a bus stop.
  • Since jitneys are ideally scaled for neighborhoods and side roads, use of jitneys could free up buses to provide better service on more heavily traveled main routes.
  • Cell phones make contact with the local jitney cheaper, easier, and more efficient than the old mobile radio dispatch system or hand wave flag-down system.
  • Jitneys can respond quickly and organically to changes in demand such a concerts and sports events.
  • Even if jitneys only have a 2 perecnt impact on SOV traffic that would be significant, and there would be little if any financial risk.
  • A network of jitneys could provide quick emergency transportation for large numbers of people in the event of natural disaster or homeland security event


  • A well-established system of jitneys may compete with mass transit. (Since the percentage of mass transit riders is small, the impact should be minor compared to the impact on SOV users. Jitneys may actually increase the use of mass transit since they are a small-scale feeder service.)
  • Jitneys may not be as safe as a bus. (True, but can we afford to have large buses driving around with four passengers surrounded by dozens of SOVs?  We can’t make life totally risk free and we must ultimately weigh the costs verses the benefits.)
  • Jitneys may reduce pedestrian and bike traffic. (Since the number of walkers and bikers is small, the impact will be minor compared to the impact on SOV users.)
  • Some drivers may be unprofessional. (Licensing could help, but poor drivers would soon develop reputations that would lead to fewer calls and their business would dry up.)
  • Liability and safety issues (Legislation and thinking would have to change permitting jitneys to operate with the understanding that passengers ride at their own peril. This does not mean that there would be zero liability. If a driver drove in a clearly reckless manner or committed a crime he would be liable for damages. To keep insurance at a level that is reasonable, there would have to be some shared risk by the passenger. For instance, a passenger could not sue the driver for injuries sustained in a true traffic accident, or a passenger could not sue for frivolous reasons such as spilling their own hot coffee in their lap.)
  • Sharing a ride with several sweaty strangers may not be comfortable. (This is
    not transportation for everyone; it is an alternate choice for those who have few choices.)
  • Jitneys will take business away from taxi cabs and mass transit. (That could happen but can we afford to “subsidize” systems that are not efficient?  Many believe that jitneys would actually increase mass-transit use by acting as a small scale feeder service.)
  • Jitneys won’t work (It will cost almost nothing to try the concept. There are too many cases where it does work to say that it won’t work without trying it. A big federal program is not needed to solve every problem; give the free market a chance.)
  • Jitneys are flagged down by riders which won’t work in the suburbs (The ubiquitous cell phone changes the model. The driver can be easily called fora pick-up. As for the cost, we already have a working model in our suburbs. Consider the pizza delivery driver using his own vehicle as a jitney for pizzas. The drivers do well financially for the skill level needed.  Just substitute people for pizzas and see how it works.)
  • The term “jitney” sounds low rent, third-worldish. (We can come up with a new name if that’s important to people. Try cellular dispatched cars – CDC, free market transport – FMT, micro van pools – MVP, neighborhood vans, etc.)

It is folly to think that the American public will fund and then cheerfully switch to mass transit or bikes in significant numbers during the foreseeable future. Jitneys may not be “the” solution but past history shows that they can have a measurable impact reducing the number of SOV trips, perhaps in the range of 2 to  8 percent, and that could buy us some time. Most important – no additional taxes, just permission. With one action we empower our citizens, make them less dependent, reduce SOV traffic, help the elderly, help the poor, create jobs, and create taxpayers.  

2011 Jitney

In 2011 there are more jitney-like services springing up under the radar. If we have another gas crisis, I believe the services will explode. I can envision an interesting GIS analysis project mapping jitney tracks compared to SOVs and mass transit while comparing the efficiency and benefits of each. Two organizations are promoting jitneys focused on the needs of the elderly:
ITN Portland, Maine, is a 10-year-old volunteer organization that has provided transportation alternatives primarily for senior citizens. The organization has a system of vehicles, and paid and volunteer drivers. They have a car donation program and families can set up travel accounts for elderly parents that provide free transportation.

The Beverly Foundation is a national non-profit that promotes senior transportation and mobility.

The TRB (Transportation Research Board) has numerous papers and a subcommittee devoted to Jitneys and private cabs. As budgets tighten perhaps jitneys will gain some traction. As a leading-edge member of the baby boomer generation, I hope jitneys will be available when it’s time for me to turn in my license.

My dressing down was accompanied by an explanation that our job was to get our hands on as much federal funding as possible and this “jitney idea” was a non-starter since it required no federal funding and might actually conflict with the long-range regional transportation plan. Even the chairman of the local Urban League was all for the idea, until he realized that it could compete with the mayor’s goal to build a light rail system.

As a paid public employee I naively thought our job was to serve the best interests of our citizens. At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, I gravitated to military service, GIS, and Pictometry because all personified the philosophy of doing the right thing. I also believe in the GISP Code of Ethics and I know that most of you do also. I now believe that the days of wasteful government projects are over and we need to try something different like “Doing the Right Thing.”

Well, that’s my New Year’s rant. Please contact me regarding your opinion and experience.

P.S.  I’m going to be at the TRB Visualization Symposium this Summer, date/location TBD.

This article is tagged with and posted in GeoIntelligence Insider, Mapping, Opinions
Art Kalinski

About the Author:

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.

Post a Comment