What is a Jitney?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A jitney is a form of public transportation which is like a cross between a private taxi and a fully public bus. Riders on a jitney are taken on a fixed route, like with a bus, but the schedule is flexible, and the driver can make small detours to reach specific locations, which makes it similar to a taxi. The term “jitney” for this type of transportation is primarily seen in North America, with terms like “share taxi” being more common in other areas of the world.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The slang term “jitney” is a reference to a five cent piece, the original fare for this service. This cheap fare was designed to make using a jitney accessible for everyone in a community, giving people without cars the access to transit without the limitations of a rigid bus route and schedule. Riding a jitney costs significantly more today, but the slang term has stuck, although five cent pieces are not commonly called jitneys anymore.

Jitney routes usually run along lines of shops and in other major areas, looping through transit hubs like airports and bus terminals along with residential areas to pick up residents. The bus runs whenever it has enough passengers to justify a trip, and people may also be able to call ahead of time to book a trip at a specific time on a particular day. For example, someone who needs to get a doctor's appointment could make arrangements to use the jitney to get there. Groups can also book jitneys, as people might do when they want to get to the airport with luggage that makes it hard to travel on a regular bus.

Some jitneys are run by public transit agencies as a supplement to buses for passengers who require more flexible transportation. A jitney may also be used to pick up overflow passengers, or to stand in for a temporarily disabled or delayed bus so that the route stays on schedule. A service can also be run by a private operator such as a taxi company, with some people referring to unlicensed cabs as jitneys. Senior centers and other organizations may also use jitneys to move their residents around or to shuttle people to various events.

Share taxis can be a convenient service for travelers, as they allow people to get around without incurring the high costs of taking a taxi, and without needing to navigate a complicated or confusing bus system. However, travelers should be aware that jitney services can have competing rates, complete with very aggressive barkers who will try to strongarm travelers onto a particular vehicle, and that travelers should stay alert and be firm to avoid ending up on a costly trip.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Jitney is also the name for my cat! Someone told me the definition of Jitney and I had him write the name on paper. I told him that the next animal that 'hitched a ride' with me would be called Jitney. Sure enough, 1 1/2 years ago a little black cat showed up. When she stayed around long enough, she got her name: Jitney!

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