Jitney: Three Cheers for Free Enterprise

Posting early today, as I have a long meeting this afternoon followed by a dinner.

I found these photos during a random perusal of a file drawer in the Woodson. In the early days Rice’s distance from the heart of Houston posed significant transportation problems for students. There was the trolley, of course, but that came with its own issues, long waits in particular as well as an irregular schedule. Few students had cars and in the beginning the roads weren’t good. The gaps were apparently filled by enterprising citizens using their vehicles as jitneys. No one seems to have a good handle on the etymology of “jitney” but here’s the OED definition: North American informal, a bus or other vehicle carrying passengers for a low fare.

This first shot is dated 1916. Zoom in and have a look at what’s going on on the back. If that is the jitney operator standing there, he looks completely unconcerned about any passenger hijinks.

Jitney bus 1916

This second one was taken in 1936 and you can see that the owner of this auto has decorated it to appeal to his client base. I can’t quite make out the name of the lounge that’s painted on the side but I suspect it must have been a popular destination.

Jitney bus 1936

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7 Responses to Jitney: Three Cheers for Free Enterprise

  1. Pat says:

    On the car door, it looks like it says “Ladies’ Lounge”.

  2. Dagobert Brito says:

    Melissa. I think it is Ladies Lounge. There used to a dance hall on South Main just north of the Warwick, but I don’t remember the name.

  3. Both Ford Model T based. The squared-off radiator changed around 1920 or 1921. That top one looks like a paddy wagon. On the other hand, custom bodies and accessories for Model T chassis were commonly and inexpensively available.

  4. almadenmike says:

    This website (http://www.themightywizard.com/weblog/archives/000293.html) reviewing the book “Houston Electric: The street railways of Houston, Texas” (1996, by Steven M. Baron) says this about jitneys in Houston:

    >> >
    In November 1914, a booming Houston, fresh with a new ship channel and flowing oil fields, witnessed a new competitor into the transit picture – the jitney automobile car. Baron goes on to write how competitive pressures from jitney cars drove HEC management absolutely crazy for the next decade, as jitneys eventually captured some 22 percent of the market. It didn’t help that inflationary pressures from the First World War crippled finances, as did rising capital expenditures. Efforts to raise fares were usually met with petition drives from Houstonians opposing the measures, which often passed in elections.

    Intriguingly, in 1920, the City of Houston hired a traction consultant named John Beeler to do a thorough study of Houston’s transportation system. Beeler wrote, amongst many other things, that two-thirds of the streetcar routes were losing money. But he also wrote:

    “One of the reasons why the jitney bus has made such inroads into the railway business is because it saves time… The public demands rapid transportation.”

    Beeler went on to note that the average speed of travel achieved by streetcars was about 9 miles per hour, whereas the jitneys were averaging 14 miles per hour. Successive ordinances were implemented to subject jitney cars to ever increasing regulatory measures over the following decade. They were opposed by jitney drivers, but in 1924 City Council unexpectedly shutdown and banned jitneys altogether.

  5. James Medford says:

    I also think it says Ladies’ Lounge, and I’m guessing it was a wry joke (the car itself is supposed to be a ‘Ladies’ Lounge’.)

  6. My grandmother and her sister lived in a (Rice-approved) boarding house near downtown. (She graduated in 1931; her sister in 1929, I think.) I believe I remember her telling me she usually took the street car to Rice (and to church at Palmer Chapel), but I think they sometimes took a car. Evidently the drivers catered especially to the ladies, who had to live off campus. There is one humorous story she loved to tell (if I remember it right) of her being terribly embarrassed about a bloomer torn getting out of a car in a hurry on the way to class, and her eminently practical sister showing her how to quickly render it presentable by tucking it in her stocking some way.

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