About a hundred years ago, a transit system emerged as quickly as the post-WWI recession hit the US. It popped up around the country within 9 months of its launch in California. It disrupted the transportation industry for a brief time, offering passengers comfortable seats, fixed fare, and a semi-fixed route. This system was known as a jitney.
An average driver could operate a jitney by charging each rider a nickel for their ride. Jitney actually means nickel in old-time slang terms. With the introduction of jitneys, people now had comfortable riding experiences in upholstered cars, as opposed to the crowded and infrequent streetcars. And for the drivers, they could overcome economic struggles, especially when the fares increased.
"Calling" for a jitney was almost non-existent. Jitney drivers were quick to pull up where people were waiting. The jitney drivers would sometimes find customers on non-streetcar routes. Once the car was full of passengers, the jitney would take off on its route to the riders' destination. In "A Jitney Elopement" (1915), Charlie Chaplin operates a jitney to help his lover escape an arranged marriage to a wealthy Count.
Jitneys were essentially in competition with other transit for the road. As more customers favored the comfortable and convenient jitneys, streetcar operators and the local governments began losing revenue. By 1918, 90% of jitneys ceased operation, done in by regulation and issues with safety.
The 1970s saw a loosening of the restrictive regulations that had caused the jitneys demise half a century prior. Many US cities, including New York, Washington, DC, and Chattanooga, TN, attempted to encourage jitney operations to re-emerge, to better serve places where transit was no longer perceived as competition to the auto. The Chattanooga operation was the most successful with about 20 million annual rides in 1972 (Source).
Jitney operations never went away globally. Some systems focus on increased passenger comfort, while others focus on affordability. Wherever they are, they have a unique place in a system that is cheaper than taxis and private autos, and more direct than public transit. In Israel, sheruts are 10% cheaper than taxis; you can't miss the colorful matatus (below) driving through Kenya; and colectivos in Argentina are now integrated into the rest of the public transit system.
Bridj is making an effort to give our passengers a valuable commuting experience, just like the original intent of the jitney. Share in the comments below some other jitney-esque transportations systems that are around the world.
Find more information about jitneys at the following sites: