Watch and learn: How to ride Miami’s jitney

Have you seen a white van stopping randomly along the streets to let passengers off and bring more on?

It looks a bit more sketch than the Miami-Dade Transit buses, but it’s the jitney and it’s pretty legit. Loads of people use it to get around Miami, once they figure out the system. And it’s kind of awesome.

What are jitneys?

They are for-hire vehicles managed by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.

A company applies to the county with a proposed route. If their route doesn’t compete with other existing public transit services, like the bus or Metrorail, the jitney route is usually approved and the company begins running the service.

There’s a route that can take you all the way from Little Haiti to Downtown. One goes up and down Biscayne Boulevard, another circulates through in Liberty City, while another can help you whiz through Hialeah’s funky streets. There’s another that can take you from Dadeland Mall all the way to Florida City’s city hall.

Jitneys usually run from about 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., though hours will vary depending on the route and the day. Ask your driver to be certain (don’t even bother trying to find the info on a website. Jitneys don’t work like that).

Here’s how you can catch the jitney.

  • Step 1: Stand on the side of the street. (The routes are published below.)
  • Step 2: As you see one in the distance, put your hand up to wave it down.
  • Step 3: Get on the bus. (Pro-tip: You want to get as close to the front as possible for a few reasons (1) you want the driver to be able to hear you (2) you want to be able to get your change and (3) it can be uncomfortable squeezing all the way through the back between other riders)
  • Step 4: Pay the driver. It’s $1.50, cash only. If you don’t have the exact amount, the driver will make change for you. Either he’ll do it right away or he’ll do it while driving just pass it backwards through the hands of other passengers. (Pro-tip: It’s an honor system that usually works, but pay attention to make sure you’ve got the right change. Especially at night.)
  • Step 5: When you’re ready to stop just say “driver stop. (Pro-tip: Treat the drivers with respect, call them “chauffer” or “boss.” They’ll be kind back.)

There are 13 routes operating in Miami-Dade County, from Hialeah to Downtown, and the vans usually come every 10 to 15 minutes. They’re managed by a dispatcher who waits at either end of the route.

That’s how the jitney drivers on any given route know when to get going.

What’s cool about the jitney is that they can adjust their routes to get around traffic. If a street is backed up, a jitney driver can dip into a side street to get around it – something no public bus system is allowed to do. Also they operate on routes the buses don’t.

The catch though, is that you’ve kind of got to be in the know. The best way to figure the jitney out is to flag one down, get on, get a bit lost, and learn the route by trial and error. The routes aren’t published online. We found maps of most of them but they’re pretty hard to read. One of them is actually hand drawn. LOL.

Next time you’re about to get in your car to go a few blocks, maybe hop on the jit instead and see where it takes you.