Van­pool: More than a ride with con­nec­tions to home­land, suc­cess

USA TODAY US Edition - - NATION - By Christine Me­hta Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY Christine Me­hta is a CarnegieKn­ight fel­low from Syra­cuse Univer­sity. USA TO­DAY ed­i­tors as­sisted in the prepa­ra­tion of this story.

Most Fri­day af­ter­noons, Manny Cepeda speeds east on the high­way to­ward New York City in a white pas­sen­ger van.

In­side, he and seven other trav­el­ers chat­ter in rapid-fire Span­ish while lis­ten­ing to up­beat Latin Amer­i­can dance tunes, in­clud­ing bachata mu­sic that orig­i­nated in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

“There’s some­thing about the city that’s just in you. ... It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re white, black, Span­ish . . . you know you’re from New York,” Cepeda says.

“It’s al­ways the same peo­ple on the van,” driver Roberto Nuñez adds. “We all know each other.”

Based in Al­len­town, Pa., RP Trans­porta­tion is one of three re­gional trans­porta­tion ser­vices shut­tling nearly 800 pas­sen­gers weekly be­tween cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia and New York City for $25 each way. About three­quar­ters of the rid­ers are His­panic.

For some who lack a car or driver’s li­cense, RP Trans­porta­tion is the only way they can travel to the city reg­u­larly, Her­nan­dez says. For oth­ers, it’s more con­ve­nient and less ex­pen­sive than ma­jor bus lines.

The van also serves as a bridge be­tween pas­sen­ger’s old lives in His­panic-only neigh­bor­hoods in New York and new com­mu­ni­ties in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Le­high Val­ley, about 90 miles to the west.

Since 2000, Al­len­town’s His­panic com­mu­nity has nearly dou­bled in size to 43% of the city’s pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus. Like Euro­pean im­mi­grants in the 20th cen­tury, His­pan­ics who left the Caribbean for New York City found a bet­ter, less con­gested and more affordable life in Le­high Val­ley.

Still, the con­nec­tion to New York re­mains strong, re­in­forced by fam­ily or jobs.

Cepeda, 23, an as­pir­ing mu­si­cian, trav­els to New York al­most ev­ery week­end to see his Do­mini­can-born par­ents in Brook­lyn or play his gui­tar at Do­mini­can-Span­ish clubs or restau­rants.

“If you’re Do­mini­can and you don’t have fam­ily in (New York City), there’s some­thing wrong with you,” he says.

Af­ter de­liv­er­ing his eight pas­sen­gers to New York, Nuñez has 25 min­utes to eat be­fore turn­ing around and tak­ing a full van of pas­sen­gers back to Al­len­town. The rush doesn’t bother him. “I love this job.”

By Andrew Hida, Syra­cuse

Com­mutes from NYC: Jose Al­berto hands Arelis Adreu, 28, her bag as her chil­dren, Amani San­ti­ago, 2, and Avau­ris Amil, 9, wait for her. Adreu uses RP Trans­porta­tion ser­vices on week­ends to com­mute to Al­len­town, Pa., where she works at a nurs­ing home.

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