Current transportation troubles may call for an old solution


The skyrocketing cost of fuel has added a new level of urgency to the need for practical, workable solutions to the transportation issue. It may be that one solution lies in the past.

In the early 1900s, jitneys became a popular mode of transportation in cities across the country. These buses - named after the slang word for a nickel, the original fare - carried passengers over a regular route with frequent stops.

Today, many tourist destinations and large college campuses have turned to jitneys as a means of ferrying people to and fro.

The Atlantic City Jitney Association, established in 1915, is the longest-running, non-subsidized transit company in the U.S. Its fleet of 190 13-passenger mini-buses covers three routes in a four-mile area of Atlantic City 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Ticket prices range from $.60 for seniors to $2 for tourists, with a discounted rate for locals and employees.

“It’s very unique transportation that we have,” said Emmanuel Mathioudakis, president of the Atlantic City Jitney Association.

For tourists, the jitneys offer professional, convenient transportation among the casinos, shops and restaurants in Atlantic City. Buses come along every 10 to 15 minutes so visitors are not locked into staying in one area of the city.

The benefit for local residents and employees is that they don’t have to fight with traffic.

“It’s also very good for employees because parking in Atlantic City is very tough, very expensive,” Mathioudakis said.

Local businessman and District 1 candidate Phil Thalheimer sees jitneys as a sensible option that is particularly well suited to La Jolla.

“They key thing about them is that they run often and they’re short-haul,” Thalheimer said. “They’re designed for short trips, small numbers of people.”

Jitneys, Thalheimer said, would be a convenient means of getting from one part of the community to another, from Bird Rock to the Shores, from UCSD to UTC.

For people shopping or running errands within La Jolla, a centralized transportation system would conserve time, money and air pollution.

With tax incentives or a public-private partnership, Thalheimer sees jitneys as a viable option for getting around town.

“The key thing is routing,” he said. “If you don’t go where the people are and where they want to go, this would be a dismal failure. But I think the model is very, very good and could be made profitable.”