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Chrysler-based jitneys of San Francisco

Just after World War II might be the best time to talk about San Francisco's jitney service, which was closely related to the cab industry and had many of the same links.

The word "jitney" means different things in different locations. In San Francisco, a jitney was a privately-owned vehicle that covered a fixed route, picking up and dropping off passengers much like a city bus. An article in an unnamed SF newspaper dated May 3, 1950 opens with: "The operators of San Francisco's 136 jitneys, which don't conform to the dictionary definition..." Hmmm. Must've been a slow news day if they felt the need to present THAT as if it were grounds for a muckraking criminal investigation. The article continues with the official definition: "According to the dictionary, a jitney has two definitions: 1.-'A small coin, a nickel.' 2.-'A motor vehicle that carries passengers for a fare of five cents.' But San Francisco's jitneys charge a 15c fare on the Mission Street run, and 25c on the Third-st route to Hunters Point." (For comparison, a city-run bus, streetcar or cable car cost a nickel at the time.)

Especially interesting is the name of the member of the local Board of Supervisors who took issue with this departure from Webster's, one Don Fazackerly... not sure what he was doing for his primary living in 1950 - the Board of Supervisors was a low-paid part-time office at the time - but I suspect he might have been selling cars, since he became one of San Francisco's two Cadillac dealers in 1964. Wonder if he was stirring up controversy to move some iron? Nah, an elected public official wouldn't do that, would he? Fazackerly died about 1975 or so.

Anyway, most of SF's jitneys were long-wheelbase Chrysler products. Probably over half of these were DeSotos sold by James F. Waters, but local Dodge distributor J. E. French got into the game as well, and there were also a few LWB Chrysler Windsors working Mission Street, plus at least one guy in a Cadillac. I don't remember any V8s amongst the MoPar jitney fleet, but don't remember well enough to say with certainty there never were any - I was pretty young when the last of these was retired. Certainly the vast majority were flathead sixes backed by one variation or another of Fluid Drive. They had a series of amber lights above the windshield on the passenger side, to let potential fares know whether or not a seat was available, and were painted in a variety of colors, including factory colors not always seen on a limousine. One '54 DeSoto Powermaster in the factory shade of root-beer brown stuck in my mind, since this was a longer and much higher-mileage version of my grandmother's car.

Most competing medium-price makes left the long-wheelbase market before World War II, assuming they were ever in that market at all. Only Chrysler Corporation stayed in this market in a factory-built offering. There were no long wheelbase Plymouths from the factory after the war (at least domestically), but Dodge seems to have kept a long wheelbase offering in the catalog through 1952, while DeSoto and Chrysler soldiered on through the end of the 1954 model year. I assume most of the more workaday long wheelbase models were purchased for this kind of service, and that Chrysler stayed with this market as long as it did by what passed for popular demand in jitney circles.

After 1954, the jitney operators patched their obsolete vehicles together as best they could and kept them on the street as long as they could. It's a shame the LWB Plymouth Coronado was not offered here, as I suspect SF jitney operators would've snapped them up. At least one operator switched to a first-generation Ford Econoline with passenger seats, but most SF jitney operators stayed with their existing Chrysler products, holding out until Chrysler got back to building something they could use... which they eventually did in 1964 with the introduction of the Dodge A100 Sportsman passenger van.

This text is from the December 11, 1964 San Francisco News-Call-Bulletin:

San Francisco's jitney buses are getting a new look. A 50 year old institution, the service along Mission Street is converting to minibuses from the big limousines which have long been a favorite form of transportation for thousands of riders daily...

The Dodge A100 and later B100 passenger vans remained the vehicle of choice among jitney operators for a number of years, but high insurance costs and the lack of new blood to replace the old-timers eventually killed off most of San Francisco's jitneys. Today, only one jitney operator remains in business, against stiff odds. He operates a couple of old RVs, an Argosy and an Itasca, converted to seat twenty to twenty-four passengers. Whether these old workhorses are on Dodge chassis is not known, but I would not be surprised.

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