All vans seem kind of sketchy, don’t they? (Photo by Kyle McDonald.)

In New York City’s outer boroughs, there’s an official bus system and a shadow bus system — a network of commuter vans, some legal, some less so, that run simple routes. And, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the shadow bus system dwarfs plenty of official, municipally run bus systems:

[Columbia University urban planning professor David King] estimated that there are 300 legal vans and 400 to 500 illegal ones in the city. Mr. King estimates that 100,000 to 120,000 riders a day take the vans in Queens and Brooklyn, which would make it the 20th largest bus system in the country.

These vans take on routes that the city’s MTA does not — they might go between the New York’s three main Chinatowns, for instance, or straight down the whole length of a major Brooklyn avenue. They also cost marginally less than a bus ride.

The main reason they’re so popular, though: They’re frickin’ fast, perhaps because some operators are willing to take risks on the road that MTA bus drivers are not. Sure, they might make your knuckles turn permanently white, but if you’re getting home in half the time, that crazy driving starts to seem like a feature rather than a problem. If the legal, official bus system wants people to value their lives over getting somewhere 30 minutes faster, well … sorry, guys, it’s New York.

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