When regulations attack: Meet Hector Ricketts, small-biz success story stifled by government

Before there was Uber, there was Hector Ricketts’ Community Transportation Systems, Inc. Uber has snagged tons of press and unlikely allies as the San Francisco-based high-end car service app clashes with powerful union and bureaucratic forces in every market it enters. The service wins its fans by filling a market gap left by clumsy, tardy, slow, or unfriendly city transportation options, mostly for urban professionals.

Since the 1980s, Ricketts has been filling the same need for the working class of New York City’s outer boroughs. Ricketts, who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1979, runs a commuter van service that picks up customers for $1 per ride where city bus lines are often unreliable, cabs prohibitively expensive, and Subway stops nonexistent. Van businesses are a fixture of life in the island homelands of many of his customers, and were a natural fit around the Big Apple, “putting people to work taking people to work,” as Ricketts puts it. But staying in business has never been easy, not because of a lack of demand or dissatisfied customers, but because of a city regulatory structure stacked with the competition— city buses, cabs, and transportation union leaders.

In “No Vans Land,” filmmaker Sean W. Malone explores the decades-long fight Ricketts has waged to keep this low-cost, convenient option running against a string of ever-changing obstacles from special interests and city lawmakers. He has won modest successes— commuter vans can now legally pick up passengers at a whole two stops—but drivers still operate under a constant threat of low-grade police harassment and overhead in the form of tickets, fines, and wasted time. The best part? The commuter vans are totally unsubsidized, and guess who government turns to in a strike or a weather crisis when their own transportation grinds to a halt?

Take 20 minutes of a day to learn about this man and his fight. It’s well worth your time. Ricketts is a symbol of the very real damage an overzealous government, prone to cronyism, can do to the little guy. Sometimes government’s victims can be hard to find while the stories of those it subsidizes can be pinpointed and personalized easily. Malone, as part of his work with the Charles Koch Institute, is finding the unintended consequences behind these laws, and they are men and women like Hector. HonestEnterprise.tv will host more of these stories, so stay tuned, and I know from working with Malone in the past that they’ll be entertaining.

Nick Gillespie at Reason, where Reason TV videos do exactly the exemplary journalism he praises in HonestEnterprise, notes why this kind of work is important:

This is a form of the partisan or advocacy journalism recently celebrated by Jack Shafer at Reuters. This is journalism that is serious even though its creators take a side in a given issue. The goal is to persuade, not to dogmatize people into agreement. Though a somewhat doctrinaire libertarian who got his start at the Koch-funded Inquiry magazine back in the day (…worlds are colliding!…), Shafer’s pantheon of partisan journos runs the gamut from Glenn Greenwald to Rachel Carson to Ralph Nader and more. He doesn’t necessarily agree with all the people he name-checks but he respects their impact and their flagrant departure from the phony objectivity of characters such as Aaron Sorkin and David Gregory.

Yes, fewer “Newsroom” anchors and more of this, please.

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