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Perspective

Don't Believe the Microtransit Hype

Minibus startups like Chariot aren’t succeeding. But transit shouldn’t be judged on whether it turns a profit.
Don't bring on the vans.
Don't bring on the vans. Murad Sezer/Reuters

In 1914, during a streetcar strike in Los Angeles, a motorist in a newfangled private car began giving rides for a jitney—slang for nickel. The flexible service and novel automotive technology easily seduced passengers, and soon jitneys swept the nation, challenging run-down and crowded streetcar systems.

But they also clogged city streets, caused numerous crashes, and cannibalized transit ridership. Following a public outcry, many cities, including Los Angeles, decided by referendum to regulate them. By the mid-1920’s, jitneys had gone virtually extinct, replaced by tightly regulated taxi companies.