Long Beach Coined the Phrase 'Jitney'

Gerrie Schipske

In the early 1900s, as the use of the automobile increased giving riders independence, passengers of Long Beach trolleys grew bored at the fixed routes and slowness of this mode of transportation. On March 1, 1914, Long Beach had its first “jitney” – a term applied to automobile transportation for hire in Long Beach, and “jitney bus” applied to describe any automobile or auto-bus carrying passengers for a five-cent fare. A nickel was also referred to as a “jitney.” Some say the word originated in Eastern Russia or in France – “jeton” a small metal gambling counter.

Whatever its origin, the “jitney” soon became a popular mode of transportation in Long Beach. The City Council received numerous complaints from the trolley owners, that “jitneys” were threatening their business. The council responded by passing an ordinance to require licenses and insurance. One such jitney business applied for a franchise to operate in Long Beach. It paid $6600 for the franchise fee and agreed to give 3 percent of its fares to the city in return to be able to operate and prohibited other jitney operators in the city.

The Long Beach Transportation Company which had the franchise for jitneys quickly realized they could carry more passengers by using busses and began converting over. In an article titled “The Self Propelled Street Car” featured in 1919 in the American Municipalities magazine, jitney busses were touted as being the answer to the noise made by trolleys on rails and the often traffic congestion caused by rails in the middle of the road.

In New York, jitneys were hailed as the mode of transportation to “get rid of the rails” in the city. Similar to today’s uber or lyft drivers, jitney operators worked odd shifts – working other jobs during the day and driving jitneys in the early morning or late evenings. For many out of work, jitneys provided a steady form of employment. However, jitney availability was unpredictable.

Noting the unhappiness of trolley riders, bus companies began springing up across the U.S. By 1922, Long Beach had two bus companies operating on most all major streets. Much propaganda was distributed to city officials about the efficiency of the bus on city streets. Busses were required to run on a schedule so that passengers could depend upon their availability. Eventually the trolley cars – the “red cars” were removed from service. It would take until the late 1950s for Long Beach to remove most of the rails.




can you tell us about the women in the photo? and where they are?

Per the caption: Library of Congress photo in New York City. Individuals unknown.

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