Jitneys in Pittsburgh

For decades African-Americans in working-class neighborhoods with large black populations have depended on jitneys to provide them with transportation. Jitneys are unlicensed, privately run taxicabs that are essential to these neighborhoods, "because licensed cab drivers are reluctant to take trips to or from black communities" (Pittsburgh Press, 1986). Since jitneys operate outside the regulation of the Public Utilities Commission (which oversees rates and licensing for public cabs), the industry is technically illegal and "private cab companies have historically complained that jitneys take legitimate business and operate virtually unchecked by law enforcement agencies" (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1984). The jitney drivers argue that they are providing a service to the black community that Yellow Cab and other companies do not. For the African-Americans who drive them, jitneys have been a way of making a living by providing transportation for people without cars-- or people whose neighborhoods are ignored by licensed taxis.

Some drivers work independently, following the bus routes or shuttling to and from the airports; others (like the characters in August Wilson's Jitney) will team up and run a station out of a storefront or garage. The business depends on word of mouth to circulate the station's phone number around the neighborhood, a practice that strongly ties the jitney tradition to the communities they serve. As Paul Kennedy, chief of the Public Utilities Commission's finance division, put it, "The jitneys, God bless them. They've always been there and they always will be (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1984).

(from Center Stage program notes to its production of Jitney, Jan 1999)