Growing up in Jamaica, Queens for a significant chunk of my life, you could not escape the existence of the "Dollar Van" circuit, and if you grew up like us without a family owned vehicle, you could not escape how essential Dollar Vans actually were.
Birthed in 1980 after an eleven day MTA strike in New York City, the Dollar Van, (which is basically a larger sized gypsy cab) arose to help folks, primarily Caribbean immigrants, to get to and from work each day. Given the tab "Dollar" because it matched the fare of a typical one-way MTA ride at the time.
Dollar Vans became less practical to use once the MTA introduced free bus to subway transfers in 1996, because it would cost almost double if you still had to use the subway. The popularity of these Dollar Vans however never really waned. Because of the overcrowding of a typical MTA bus during peak hours, and the huge population growth of Southeastern Queens, it looks like the Dollar Vans are here to stay.
It has been established that Queens has at least seven Dollar Van Lines. Five that run from Jamaica up to the border of Nassau County and even extending in Valley Stream, Long Island, and two that originate in Manhattan's Chinatown and end in Chinatown Elmhurst and Chinatown Flushing. While the vans that service Southeastern Queens are primarily Caribbean owned and run, they are not exclusively used by any one ethnic group.
The vans that occupy two out of the three Chinatowns in Queens (the third in Corona), are widely accepted to be shuttles that predominantly service the Chinese community. These Chinese lines are much smaller and don't run as frequent as the Jamaica lines.
Below are the 5 Primary Dollar Van Lines of Southeastern Queens (in order from top to bottom mirroring the map above):
- Q83 route via Liberty Ave to Laurelton.
- Q4 route via Linden Blvd to Cambria Heights.
- Q5 route via Merrick Blvd to Valley Stream.
- Q111 route via Guy Brewer Blvd/147th Ave to Rosedale.
- Q113 route via Guy Brewer Blvd/Rockaway Tpke to Far Rockaway.
words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez map provided by the New Yorker Magazine.