Forty Years of Driving The Amish in Lancaster County

Driving the Amish has come up here on a couple of occasions recently.

Earlier this year we read about Debbie, an Amish taxi driver whose story appeared in the Amish monthly Family Life. I also listed it as one of my happier challenges of living with the Amish.

So I thought you’d enjoy this Lancaster Online story on a County resident who’s done Amish taxi duty for four decades and counting.

Carl Cisney got into driving the Amish by chance:

Four decades ago, Carl Cisney’s life changed when he gave an Amish neighbor a lift to a welding shop.

The neighbor introduced him to an Amish man named Steve Esh.

The Amish population is growing and needs drivers, Esh told Cisney. If you get a van, I’ll make sure you’re busy, he promised.

Cisney had been laid off from Trojan Yachts and was looking for work. So he borrowed $600 from a friend, bought a used van and never looked back.

Carl Cisney. Photo by Jeff Ruppenthal, Lancaster Online

As this snippet suggests, Amish taxis aren’t in fact the yellow variety. The van is a popular vehicle–maybe the only one that really makes sense if you plan to regularly haul Amish and their large families.

Reading this article made me wonder when Amish taxi driving first became popular and accepted in Amish communities. I’d naturally expect that the larger, more progressive places saw this become commonplace first.

According to the article, Cisney is believed to be the first person in the state certified to drive the Amish, so that gives us a clue.

A popular service, but not for everyone

The plainest Amish do not permit hired drivers except in emergency situations. But many Amish pay English drivers for trips to work, shopping, and visits to family which would be impractical or impossible using other forms of transport.

How often they do this also varies. And if you ask Amish you’ll find that some drivers are more popular than others.

Cisney apparently has a good record, both with the Amish and the state, who’ve never received any formal or informal complaints about him.

Cisney takes Amish on shopping trips, to medical appointments and to visit relatives. He’s taken groups to vacations in Niagara Falls and to beaches in Delaware.

One client, an Amish grandmother, said she’s a “pretty frequent” customer. She might take six trips in a typical month, she estimated.

Amish culture frowns on people calling attention to themselves, so she asked that her name not be used.

She likes the spotless condition of Cisney’s van, the fact that he’s always on time, and his smooth driving. Kids who get carsick usually don’t with Carl, she said.

We learn some other interesting facts in the article. For one, Pennsylvania has 151 “paratransit carriers” which is the official classification for these vehicles which service Amish and others whose “personal convictions” prevent car ownership.

Eighty-one of these carriers are found in Lancaster County. I can’t decide if these numbers are lower than I’d expect, or about right. It also makes me wonder how many others might operate “informally”, so to speak.

Rates have also changed since Cisney began. In 1975, his price was 25 cents per mile, with a $2 charge per hour of waiting. In 2015, he gets 90 cents per mile, and $8 per hour of waiting.

You can find the article in full here. It’s an interesting read which gives you a behind-the-scenes look at a service many Amish need and appreciate.

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    1. Carl Oliver

      Amish Taxi

      My father-in-law is a van driver for the Amish here in Buchanan County, Iowa. He really loves it. Most work days he drives for a construction crew and he even bought a truck to be able to pull a covered trailer containing all their tools. He drives them to the job site in the morning and picks them up in the evening. If the job is close to home, he goes on other local taxi runs until the crew needs their ride home for the day. If it is too far away for that to be practical he usually hires on to the construction crew for the day.

      1. That’s neat Carl, especially that he joins them at work some days.

    2. Barb Zimmerman

      Common Practice in Northern Indiana

      This has been going on all my life (62 years). I remember my old neighbor man used to give rides to Amish friends around Elkhart and Kosciusko counties. I’m not sure what current rates are, but I would not be surprised to hear it was at least $20 to go even the shortest distance to a local store.

      It is very common to see a van-load of Amish pull up to Wal-Mart or a local grocery store. I know some people haul Amish to sales or out-of-state family gatherings, too. One of my friends gets several jobs pulling trailers, etc. to other states for Amish. Amish have to provide their own car seats for kids and pay for them, too.

      As to licenses or permits, Indiana really doesn’t press this. I suppose the chauffeur’s license is required (especially for insurance coverage), but just transporting neighbors is pretty lenient. Probably those with the big vans have to have chauffeur’s license to qualify as a business, but I suspect a lot of under-the-table operations. Insurance companies are probably more involved than the state.

      1. Thanks for the northern Indiana info, Barb. I have heard complaints about the requirements in the Lancaster area, maybe it’s a little easier in your area.

    3. Rita

      Giving rides to the Amish

      We have friends who regularly drive Amish (here in southern York County, PA) where they need to go. One friend was treated to supper at a local restaurant by her Amish friend as a Thank You for taking him to work each day.