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Posted by on Mar 9, 2014 in Dolla Van Diaries | 8 comments

Dolla Vans For Dummies

There’s nothing worse than a newbie dolla van rider. I don’t come across them too often but when I do, I find that I have absolutely no patience with them and their antics.  Today a woman wasted a whole 10 minutes struggling to pay and get off the van. The whole van was a chorus of suck teet, cut eyes, and more than a few ‘Jeeznages!‘  When she finally got out the driver commented ‘Mussie she firs’ time.’, which gave everyone a good laugh before we jumped out and headed to the train station.

But really, it must be confusing your first few trips, what do to in the van and how to do it. I know things were a little fast and loose when I first started riding them back in 1990-something. But acceptable procedures have developed since then. And it best to know them, yes?  With the influx of new residents to Brooklyn these days (ie gentrification) I thought it’d be helpful to write up a quick list of basic instructions and acceptable behaviors when riding a Bklyn dolla van/cab:

1. KNOW YOUR ROUTE
Dolla vans and cabs run along some of the major bus lines in Bklyn. But not every line.  Flatbush and Utica Avenues are the two major routes.  The Flatbush vans run from Kings Plaza to Livingston Street downtown and the Utica vans runs from Kings Plaza to Eastern Parkway. They also run along a few important secondary streets as well, like Church Ave, Avenue H and Avenue D to name a few.

2. KNOW YOUR VEHICLE
Dolla vans are usually the standard issue 15 passenger vans often tricked out with colorful window decals, fancy horns and such. The newer vans are more spacious, with more head and leg room. Some are even configured with single seats along the right side of the van.

But folks are thinking a little more outside of the box these days as I’ve seen at least one ambulette operating as a dolla van. It confused the hell outta folks at first (everyone is turning to the next person asking ‘That’s a dolla van? You sure?’) but it’s even roomier than the new vans and the one I ride has a large tv screen mounted above the driver and shows movies on his evening rides.

Dolla cabs are usually older model 4 passenger cars (though you cyan small up yourself and fit a 5th person in the front seat). You’ll usually only find these running  the secondary roads though on occasion they pick up fares along Flatbush and Utica Avenues.

 3. GREET THE OCCUPANTS
Now this isn’t a must but it nice, right? Especially in the morning. When you enter the van just say a quick good morning to everyone. Most will ignore you but usually the driver and a few native born islanders will fix there mouth to return the courtesy. Sets a nice tone for the day.

4. FIND YOUR SEAT. QUICKLY.
Please, for the love of God, do not stand hunched up in the doorway trying to figure where you’re gonna sit! People take these vans for their convenience and speed. You slowing everyone down standing there trying to decide between the front row or the second row. The general rule is that you start filling in from the first row and continue towards the back.

If you decide it’s too crowded and you don’t want squeeze up yourself to fit in the back row please make your way out, quickly. If you decide to stay, nah complain. Is a dolla van not a limo. What more you want?

5. IF YOU SIT IN THE FIRST ROW, BE PREPARED TO WORK.
Sitting in the first row means that more than likely you will be tapped on the shoulder by the passengers behind you and asked to pass money to the driver. Then asked by the driver to pass whatever change is made back to the passenger. I find this highly annoying but it’s a non-negotiable if you sit up front.

6. ASK FOR CHANGE BEFORE YOUR STOP.
The fare in a dolla van is $2.00 (it went up from $1.00 to $2.00 some years ago but the name dolla van stuck.) It’s best to have exact change but if you don’t here’s the best way to get your change:

Pay the driver and get your change either as soon as you get in or a few stops before you get off. You will piss everyone off, yourself included, if you wait until your stop to hand over a large bill only to find out he doesn’t have change and now needs to hail other drivers to make it. Or leaving you to try and make change with the other riders.

7. CALL OUT YOUR STOP BEFORE YOU GET TO IT.
If you know you’re getting out at Church Ave, don’t wait until you are at Church to ask for a stop. Two or three blocks before call out, ‘CHURCH!‘ so the driver is aware and can manuvar his van to the curb. And speak up. Especially if there is music playing, a CB radio blaring or if you are sitting way in the back of the van. Otherwise the driver is sure to miss the stop and you’ll have to walk back to your destination and you ain’t just pay $2.00 to walk a block did you?

Also, unlike buses, dolla vans and cabs can stop wherever they like (except at bus stops though many do anyway) so calling out a more specific location like ‘Church Ave over the light‘ or ‘2nd Glenwood‘ or ‘In front of the Rite-Aid‘  is fine . But again, don’t wait until we’re right up on it to call the stop. That’s how accidents and cuss outs happen.

8. HAVE YOUR MONEY READY BEFORE YOUR STOP.
Even if you have exact change and plan to pay as you exit the van, please do not wait until you are exiting to start looking for the $2.00. That was the problem this morning. The woman waited til we got to Eastern Parkway to dig around in her bag to find her money And since she was sitting in the first row, right by the door in an older smaller van, no one else could move until she was done. What she should have done is taken her money out earlier and held it until the stop. If you really wanna make a bunch of West Indians angry, wait until you get to your stop then take five minutes to go through your pockets then pull out a $20 and ask for change. Or better yet, pull out a handful of small change and start counting. LOL!

9. LEARN HOW TO OPEN THE DOOR WHEN EXITING.
You would not believe how many people either don’t know how or can’t figure out how to open the dolla van door. Most vans have a standard grip and squeeze  door handle. But often, when in a rush or in the dark of a nighttime ride, folks just cannot get it to open. Can’t lie, its happen to me once or twice. Highly embarrassing because the entire van is just waiting for you to get off. Just remember reach in the door well and squeeze.

So, those are the basics of a dolla van ride. And though they are a bit of a hazard on the road they are an excellent alternative to mass transit. Quick, convenient and almost always available. So enjoy the ride! The music, the movies, the colorful characters and conversation even the daredevil driving and the possibility of getting pulled over by the cops make it, more often than not, a fun and exciting ride.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to this list? Do you have a funny or annoying or an ‘only in Bklyn’ dolla van/cab moment to share? Tell me nuh!?

8 Comments

  1. Still A Classic!!!!

  2. This was an awesome post! I just had a Facebook status up about how TWO different people needed change for $20 when we reached Flatbush.

    I would add the differences in boroughs too. Taking a van in Queens is different than in BK. On Jamaica Ave, you line up by the signs and pay in advance.

    Oh– and there is still one van on Utica that charges a dollar. He has the McDonald’s dollar sign on his windows.

  3. Can’t wait to read the ‘roti shop etiquette’, and the ‘just because you like hot sauce, don’t mean you ask for pepper on yuh doubles’ and ‘how to–make mango chow like the woman on the junction’

    Lol! I need a subscription to your blog

    • OMG I think you’re onto something. I feel a whole how-to series coming on….you’ve created a monster! or maybe a jumbie would be more fitting lol

  4. Highly educational and timely!! Thanks for the refresher. Should be flyers hades out to all the newbies on Flatbush.

    You miss out:
    1. Mind yuh feet, is a tight space
    2. Don’t comment or complain about the type, loudness or quality of he music, prayers, politics or radio station the driver has on—for your own safety
    3. Put yuh child on yuh lap unless you handing over $4
    4. Don’t open yuh Chinese food nah! We hungry already

    I could think of more but I’m on the bus. I think you would get the Nobel prize if you print this up and hand them out to the people who ask you “is it here you meet the Dollar vans?”

    • Good ones CARP! I’ve witnessed some real cuss outs when a church mama starts objecting to the driva’s passa passa videos. And the whole child on your lap business makes me real nervous. Just seems terribly unsafe but if you can save $2.00…lol

  5. You’re too funny. You’re article should be taken seriously. Before I travel, I’ll use Google earth to map out my route. To my surprise, it is pretty accurate.

    • Thanks. I was joking around but deadly serious when I wrote the post. I was truly irritated by some of the things I’ve seen happen in the vans/cabs. Someone had to speak up! LOL…oh, and I’m a mass transit gal so hopstop.com is my preferred routing app. 🙂

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