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