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Did You Ever Ride Jitney?

Before there was Uber and Lift, there was Jitney.

I discovered Jitney while researching my next project. My grandma recalled riding "the Jitney bus" home from a family funeral. I needed to know more.

Essentially, Jitney was an Uber ride for a nickel. Jitney was slang for nickel. Transportation was at a cross roads. Horse and buggy or wagon was being taken over by Henry Ford cars. Yet, mass transit, in the form of trolley's, street cars, and cable cars, depending on your city, was in full force. That was until July 1, 1914 when one L.R. Draper of Los Angeles, offered a ride to a man on a corner for a jitney. From that moment on, the rideshare world was never the same. Jitney was the slang for a nickel. Jitney was an Uber ride for a nickel. Becoming the common mans horseless carriage.

Jitney drivering exploded across the United States. The ease and accessibility of being met by a car, dropping a nickel, and being delivered to your destination took off like wildfire. Car owners and the public loved it. Jitney's adoration spawned songs, poems, and a Charlie Chaplin movie. However, mass transit moguls were enraged. All their investments were being hampered. Before long the war of the Jitney broke out.

City by city, state by state, the opposing sides battled. Initially the turf battle was verbal, with rail and trolly companies striking and initiating ballot measures imposing specialized licenses, fees, and boundaries on Jitney drivers. Soon mayors, governors, and other elected officials pushed for greater guidelines against Jitney's, implying that they were a menace to the standard way of life.

Sadly, as World War I raised its ugly head, Jitney lost its beautiful ride. Enough pressure and effort closed operations nationwide. Yet, for one brief, delightful moment, the common man felt like a king, transported where ever he wanted, for only a nickel. Today when you ride Lyft or Uber, take a moment to reflect on the Jitney, and remember, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Feel free to wish the rides were still a nickel.


If you are interested in more details of Jitney's and their history click on the links below.

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