No perking.

It’s a plan so good, you have to wonder how it evolved within the leaden confines of City Hall. It’s a plan so absurdly elegant, you are probably aghast it’s taken years to evolve. The City’s Department of Transportation, demonstrating actual commitment to innovation and taking it on the chin for complacent union city workers everywhere, announced last week a pilot program to suspend individual car perks in favor a shared fleet.

You can save your disbelief that that the department charged with reducing congestion had a fleet of 57 vehicles for another time. Ignore that they distributed them for free to employees. And by all means think not of the parking placards that enabled them to park in an almost unregulated fashion in the densest city center nationwide.  Instead, just breathe a sigh of relief that someone finally said, ‘Um, is this really the best way?’

The answer to that was obvious, so the challenge was only to come up with workable, efficient alternate. The solution is a reduced (hybrid) fleet, all off-street parking, and, best of all, taking a page from the car sharing service Zipcar, the new fleet will be available during non-work hours for private rental.

Think about the potential there: Zipcar, which is a nominally profitable as a private concern, is facing growth limits in the city because they can’t find flexible storage situations. If the city could convert the majority of their fleet (and then some) to a vendor like Zipcar, they might actually be able to increase the quantity of vehicles available for legitimate city business as well as rapidly expand their fleet for private use. The outline wording of the RFP certainly looks like they have exactly one vendor in mind, and that is Zipcar, so we can all hope that car-sharing, an eminently reasonable solution for congestion, is about to quickly increase its footprint.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that even though this moves 57 cars from the downtown streets, it leaves in place the other 500+ placards that allow DOT employees to bring private vehicles into the city center. And that number is a pittance relative to the total number believed to be in circulation. Even if the city took a zero tolerance attitude regarding placards for its employees, that would only eliminate 22,000 or so of the estimated 142,000 out there. The preponderance of parking placards go to teachers, cops (and related court employees) and fire fighters.

Given that placards are tied up with contract negotiations, and that the department charged with enforcement is the one that also happens to receive the lion’s share of the perks, as idealistic as the shared car plan is, it also has the whiff of Bloomberg’s preferred model of civic management evolution: start a pilot program that is light years ahead of what has been proposed to date, hoover up all the laudatory press, and then allow the majority of bad habits trundle forward with little to no improvement.

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