Would you pay hundreds of dollars for a 1950s Western Electric rotary phone when your neighbors have iPhones? No, you wouldn’t. But when it comes to public services, New Yorkers are paying for an iPhone — and getting the equivalent of the decrepit rotary. The city’s new budget, passed last week, promises more of the same.
We pay for the best, but get yesterday’s technology and work practices.
Take trash collection. A few years ago, the Citizens Budget Commission took a critical look at New York City waste collection. Waste collection in Gotham costs more than it does in other cities. Not coincidentally, New York also fails to take advantage of modern technology that makes waste collection faster and more efficient.
If you live in a Big Apple apartment building, chances are your trash is picked up by two beefy Department of Sanitation workers who toss bags of trash into the back of their truck. To accomplish this, your building’s porter leaves the bags out overnight on the sidewalk, creating an unsightly and often smelly obstacle for pedestrians. Picking up the trash might take 15 or 20 minutes, and if your street is narrow, the sanitation truck blocks traffic for that time.
There is a better way. Trash could be put out in bins that would be lifted mechanically and emptied into the sanitation truck. Bin collection is safer, because it makes backbreaking lifting unnecessary. It’s faster, too, and would only require one worker to drive the truck and operate the lift mechanism. Binned trash would be contained overnight, spillage would be eliminated and smells reduced.
Why doesn’t the city do it this way? Bin collection would require the city to renegotiate union work rules and to acquire new equipment. New Yorkers, moreover, would need to give up street-parking spaces to house the bins. The political class views that last ask as an impossibility; free parking is sacrosanct. Or is it?
Eric Kober is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He retired in 2017 as director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. Follow him on Twitter here.
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