Monday, April 7, 2008

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's loss is my gain, yet I regret it.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a genius.

He created software that helped Wall Street firms calculate their products' worth better, and sold it well. He created his own financial-market media business with its own (1130 AM) local business news station. He amassed billions in the business of reporting on business while helping business run itself more efficiently. And he bought himself a house on East 79th Street in which he lives to this day, even though he could have the Gracies' home if he wanted it. He is our Mayor, and I like him.

I was a bus tourguide until early in 2002 -- I'd lost my job as a bus tour guide, as had many, many others. The attack on NYC had come four months before. That and a recession drove tourists away from here. South Street Seaport was dying. Those few who dared to come here invariably -- and usually solely -- wanted to see what out-of-towners call "Ground Zee-row." The site that I call the World Trade Center. They wanted to see The Pit. Nobody cared that George Washington had been inaugurated four blocks away, or that Hamilton and Jefferson had a Broadway sidewalk conversation that altered the location of the US government forever afterward. And they certainly didn't care about a hundred merchants whose businesses were dying on the vine, half a mile away at the Seaport. They wanted that smoking hole. And Mayor Bloomberg figured out a way to give them that hole, and save the Seaport into the bargain.

He had a viewing ramp built over Fulton Street to the south side of St. Paul's Chapel. Then he set up a ticket system. Tickets were to be free, but available only at South Street Seaport, forcing people to go there if they wanted to go up on the platform. That was a brilliant move, and it did enough good that most of the Seaport businesses were able to stay alive through the recession.
Bloomberg gained my admiration then. That was a brilliant move.
My Mayor was about to sign a bill into law a year ago when he paused to think about the small businessmen that that law would impact. An impassioned plea by a beautiful young pedicab driver stopped him from signing the law which would regulate pedicabs by eliminating the jobs of half our people, some 300 drivers.
New York City Council, led by Christine Quinn, overrode Bloomberg's veto. It was thought at the time that she was led by some very deep-pocketed lobbyists in her wish to crack down on us, a charge which she denied. Less than one week ago, a hidden stash of four million dollars of slush funds connected to her has surfaced, which she is also denying connection with.
Sure. Right. If she is made poor by not having access to this hidden cash, she should take solace in the offer of a free ride in TourguideStan's pedicab.

But now to the point of today's post: the Congestion Pricing Plan. It has failed in Albany. Various problems with it led to a failure of necessary support in the state capitol. That, and the change in governors less than a month ago, led it to stumble ahead all last week, never regaining its footing. Finally, it crashed to the floor this afternoon. It's over.

The plan was to charge a fee of between $8 and $21, depending on vehicle size, to allow motorists to travel into midtown Manhattan. The monies would have been matched with federal funds that together would have allowed the city to buy more buses and train cars, to boost the MTA's carrying capacity by around 20,000 more commuters a day. It would have provided cash for much more in terms of mass transit than just new buses and train cars.
But it's over now. The MTA will now have a $17.5BB shortfall in the coming year, and transit will suck for a long time to come.

In the future, the same number of cars will come to the most congested part of town as ever. This is bad for the local atmosphere, bad for road use, bad all around. Air quality will suffer. The motorists themselves will suffer from the stress of having plenty of power, and nowhere to use it. The practice of blowing the horn the instant the light turns green is sure to increase. Had the plan passed, fewer cars would be heading into Midtown on a daily basis, so traffic would move perceptibly faster, and more efficiently. That will not happen now.

But it's good for me as a pedicab driver. If the Congestion Pricing Plan had worked, fewer vehicles would have come into town. That would mean that street traffic would have been lighter, and people could have crossed town faster in motor vehicles. Now that won't happen. And that works in my favor.

The worse traffic is, the better my business is, because I exploit gridlock. Midtown's famously heavy crosstown traffic makes it possible for me to guarantee in writing that I can carry you crosstown in less than eleven minutes, or the ride is free. There is a trick here. Actually, a whole system of tricks that motorists play on themselves and others make heavy traffic as easy to navigate as an airplane through air. Cars in midtown streets tend to be one behind the next in a pretty straight line. There's usually about six to eight feet of space between mid-street moving cars and curb-lane parked cars. My Main Street pedicab is exactly four feet wide. That leaves plenty of room for me to snake through stopped traffic, bearing gleeful New Yorkers to the station, the theater, the bar where all their friends are, or their jobs. If it's in midtown, I'll get you there in ten minutes or less, or it's free. There's a 28-point sign on the side of my bike advertising just that guarantee.

There are those who maintain that pedicabs aren't safe. I have been in business since 2002 without accident. While some guys have strobe lights and stereos, my bike has seatbelts, hydraulic disc brake, LED lights fore and aft, and a safe, knowledgeable driver. To those cautious types, I have this to say: "Good luck. Hope you get a cab. Bye." It's their loss.

I feel really bad about Mayor Mike's loss. I, for a while, carried a sign on the back of my bike thanking him for his veto. He has done a great deal of good for our city. Though it's good for my business personally, it's bad for everyone who works in midtown or lives near it, in the UES, UWS, Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, Turtle Bay and Murray Hill. It's going to be a long wait for better traffic.