Jitneys and Colectivos
Transportation congestion problem solved!
by Alan Mole [1]

"Colectivos are good transportation.  Yet they put two, three or four passengers in a car, instead of the 1.5 usual in private cars, and thus they can cut traffic in half and solve all our problems."

Decades ago, in Reason Magazine a column appeared entitled something like "Jitneys: solution to the transportation crisis."  (Here's a Mackinac Center column regarding jitneys, ca. 1999.)  I thought, wow, this is one of those answers as simple as child's play, like legalizing hemp for farmers or cutting real crime in half by ending the drug war.  How much more obvious can a solution be?!  Then, nothing changed.  A few days ago, a colleague of mine from in the cryonics movement sent me an article and letter he had written in support of jitneys (known as colectivos in Latin America) to solve congestion problems where he lives in Colorado and Utah.  Voila!  — bw


I would like to suggest that we can solve our traffic problems easily and cheaply through a simple change in our laws: We should permit colectivos to operate in Colorado.

Colectivos -- as they are known in South America, or "jitneys" as they were called in the States, are simply private cars licensed to carry passengers at will for a set or negotiated fee.

I used colectivos in Peru when I was sixteen.  They are easy and convenient and cheap.  One goes to the corner and waits, typically just two minutes, and flags one down as it drives up.  The driver has two or three passengers already, but there is room for one more without crowding.  The charge is just little more than for a bus.  The colectivo runs a set route, like out Arapahoe as far as Ball.  It makes only a couple of stops and makes good time, more like a cab than a bus.  It is often faster than your private car would be, because you don't have to find a space and park it.  If a passenger is heavily burdened with groceries or old or weak, the driver will usually take a bit more money and deviate a couple of blocks to drop the passenger at his/her door.  Colectivos are naturally regulated as to numbers—at rush hour, when many passengers want go to work there are many drivers going to work to pick them up; other times demand drops and so does supply.

Colectivos are comfortable—cars are smooth and quiet, while buses lurch along swinging their miserable straphangers like pendulums, spewing clouds of stinking diesel smoke.

The colectivo system is flexible—maybe I'd love to car pool but can't because I work overtime too often.  But I can catch a colectivo to go home at 4:00, 6:00, 6:30, or 9:00 p.m., with no problem. Plus, I can get out at the grocery store and pick up some things, ride another route and pick up cleaning, and take a third route home.  The car pool will never let you do that, and if you have to wait 30 minutes for a bus at each stop you won't get home before midnight.

Colectivos are good transportation.  Yet they put two, three or four passengers in a car, instead of the 1.5 usual in private cars, and thus they can cut traffic in half and solve all our problems.

Why don't we have them?

A system like this develops naturally when many people buy cars.  It was developing in America in the 1920s, and so successfully that it threatened to drive buses and trolleys out of business.  So the bus companies bribed or bullied the legislatures into outlawing jitneys.  Now the law no longer serves its corrupt purpose of enriching bus owners— the people own the busses and subsidize them heavily to cut traffic.  Yet 96% of us still drive cars so traffic remains terrible.  But we still retain this obsolete foolish law that stifles the natural answer to our traffic problem.

What would it take to set up a colectivo system?

One would want to license cars—perhaps requiring a safety check on old ones—and drivers—only those with good records need apply and questionable applicants (like people of 90) would need to pass a driving test.  Dangerous felons like convicted rapists would be excluded.

Insurance would be required.  This should simply be a rider on a private liability policy, costing under a hundred dollars a year. (More on this below.)

What are potential problems?

Safety vs. Discrimination

On hearing this idea a friend remarked that he no longer hitchhiked nor picked up hitchhikers.  It had simply become too dangerous.  For this reason people may be leery of colectivos at first, and only go with people they know and trust or those like little old ladies who clearly present no danger.  As time passes people will become more relaxed.  A rider will recognize a driver who always drives this route, a rider will introduce a young man who looks fierce but is really a mild mannered PhD chemist who tells good jokes. A colectivo will come up with several middle aged respectable people in it, and a young woman who normally would worry about the large young male driver will get in, knowing she is as safe with such a crowd as she would be if he were driving a bus.

There will be aspects of discrimination here. If you pick up the elderly and not the young, that is ageism.  If you pick up women but not men, that is sexism. If you pass up a young black male who is unusually dressed, because you fear he is a gang member, that may be ageism, sexism, racism and classism.  But we should recognize the personal and security aspects of this situation, just as we do in the selection of roommates or car-poolers, and exempt it from non-discrimination laws.  We should instead trust our people to be fair.

Boulder is a good place, and Boulderites will soon sort it out.  But we must allow them to.  We must allow drivers to pass up riders they distrust, and riders to refuse to go with drivers they don't like.  If we require every driver to pick up every rider, no one will dare to drive.


Historically, unions of bus drivers have opposed colectivos for the same reason as bus company owners: they don't like the competition.  However, at this moment we need more bus drivers than we can get, so bus drivers are unlikely to be laid off or experience any kind of disruption on account of this experiment.  Thus this would be a good time to try the plan.


I have noted frankly the problems with colectivos, but their advantages far outweigh their few faults.  They are the natural solution to traffic problems like Boulder's, they cost the city nothing, they clear the streets, and they make it a joy to get around without a car. The main requirement to have them is to remove the archaic law against them. Plus, we would need to do some research to develop a good licensing law.

Boulder could lead the country in this advance, performing a real service not only to ourselves but to the whole Republic.  I hope you will add this idea to your formal considerations of ways to solve our traffic problem. I have tried it and I can vouch for it.  It is superb.


Insurance cost:

Typical passenger miles might be: seven miles to Ball Aerospace times two trips per day times two hundred days per year times three passengers equals 8,400 passenger miles per year.  My insurance company asks me how many miles per year I drive my car to work.  If I were to increase this number by 9000, they would increase my insurance by 34 dollars per year. (I asked them.) At approximately 1.5 passengers average in a car, 6000 automotive miles represents 9000 passenger miles.  Therefore the additional premium for an increase of around 9000 passenger miles as above, should be around $34 a year.  Or possibly a little more, counting paperwork etc.

Additional data on insurance cost

From "Paratransit in America", by Dr. Robert Cervero.  Dr. Cervero quotes a cost of 16 dollars per day for insurance on full-time vans.  A van might average eight passengers and 25 mph for 16 hours a day, or 3200 passenger miles per day, or about 1/2 cent per passenger mile in insurance cost.  At that rate, insurance for 9000 passenger miles would cost about $45.  This is in line with the $34 mentioned above.


I would make, at $1/ride:

Two rides/day times three passengers times $1/passenger-ride times 200 days per year = $1200/year

This would be enough to pay for all my insurance (not just the rider) plus all my gasoline.

But instead of four cars on the road there would be one.  The cost to the city would be zero.  The cost of RTD to city taxpayers is about a five dollar subsidy for each bus ride.  At two rides a day times two hundred days per year times three passengers times five dollars, that comes to $6000.  Thus if all these riders were "stolen" from the buses, the city would save $6000.

Note:  On the matter of discrimination, perhaps we should have a committee study the matter.  Members should include those likely to suffer discrimination, e.g. young black males, and also those likely to be at risk, e.g. small weak females.  They should discuss the issue and make recommendations. 

And, by the way, there is one I would like to make: If you feel sorrow at the sight of a young black male waiting as cars pass him by, and you are driving a colectivo, you can stop for him and, when he asks the fare, say "My friend, for you it's free.  Hop in!"  One act of friendliness and kindness makes up for a lot in this world.


Boulder has no law against colectivos; it's Colorado.  The PUC must license all public carriers and taxi companies are able to veto all competition.  However, there is an exemption for municipalities so it may be possible to try an experiment.



Letter to the Mayor of Salt Lake City

August 4, 2006

Mayor Rocky Anderson
Mayor’s Office
451 South State Street
Room 306
Salt Lake City, UT 84111

Dear Mayor Anderson:

I'd like to suggest a solution to Salt Lake City's pollution problems.  For some time I have advocated colectivos as a means to reduce traffic, pollution and fuel use.  Colectivos are simply private cars that run a more-or-less set route and pick up passengers along the way, for a negotiated fee.  They are called "colectivos " in South America, where they are still commonly used.  They were called "jitneys" in the U.S. before bus companies got them outlawed.  They are fully described in the attached paper, but briefly they're good because they put four people into each car instead of one, and thus cut traffic, fuel use and pollution by four times.

Jitneys spring up like weeds naturally, needing no fertilizer in the form of taxpayer subsidies, and they provide a superb transportation system.  They are so strong they are hard to kill off, even when dirty politics provides pesticides in the form of foolish and dubious laws.  Only with strong enforcement did they eventually die out, leaving us with the current seemingly insuperable problems. But Utah, in allowing paying carpools, apparently re-legalized them!

The Utah Code, 72-12 says explicitly that "State policy is to support and encourage transportation modes that reduced vehicle miles.", and goes on to make paying carpools legal.  For carpools of six people or less no special insurance, chauffeur's license, nor county license is required, and there is no requirement for the carpool to be permanent.  There is no time requirement at all, so a colectivo would be legal, seen by the law as a half-hour carpool.  The only requirement is that the trip be " incidental to another purpose of the driver ", but that still allows you to pick up riders on your way to work or Wal-Mart.

I live in Colorado, but while I was on contract with Thiokol near Brigham City I learned about this.  I contacted  Ahmed Jaber, the Utah Department of Transportation expert on paying carpools and alternative transportation.  As I understood it he thought colectivos would be legal under the paying carpools statute.  He grew up in Lebanon, where there was no bus system, only colectivos by another name.  He likes the system, and although he cannot publicly call for them he can endorse them as a good transportation system.

I asked if DOT could say they were legal (because, who would believe me?) But here I hit a snag.  James Beadles, Assistant Attorney General, sent a memo to say they were illegal in his opinion, and discouraged me from contacting him or commenting.  But the law he cited is obviously meant to forbid hitchhiking, and if interpreted literally the way he does it would destroy all public transport in Utah.

41-6-82(4) "A person may not sit, stand, or loiter in or near a roadway for the purpose of soliciting from any occupant a ride... " So a person standing at a colectivo stop and hailing a colectivo would be in violation, he says.  But in that case, so would a person standing on a corner hailing a cab, standing at a bus stop expecting the bus to pick him up, or children waiting for a school bus, or a wife waiting for her husband in front of a store ...  Were the law understood and enforced this way, Utah would come to a halt. 

Mr. Jamal says of this that it doesn't much matter; DOT does not enforce that law.

So here it stands.  Colectivos would do great good in many ways, especially in case a  revolution in Saudi Arabia or some other disruption in oil supplies forced the U.S. to get by on drastically less gasoline.  Utah's laws allow colectivos, and Utah could lead the way for all the country.

I urge you to study the matter, hold hearings, and then encourage colectivos in Salt Lake City.  All that is really necessary is to announce that they are legal and suggest people use this system.  Laissez-faire will do the rest.  Of course, you could also suggest rules: (#1: Be cautious and don't pick up to Jesse James!) And you could create stops like taxi stands and so on, but that's just icing.  With colectivos all you need to say is “It’s legal…" and  jump out of the way.

Somehow I suspect you may have other thoughts and concerns though, and I hope you will let me know what they are.

Thanks for your attention,


Alan Mole

[1] Note: Alan Mole has asked that any members of the Libertarian Party (or Greens) who live in Colorado or Utah to contact him if they have an interest in doing some activism along the lines of colectivo popularization.  Like putting a sticker on your car saying Colectivo and picking someone up on the corner, after notifying the authorities and the media.


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