Anticipatory Improvements

I flew through New York’s LaGuardia Airport recently, and these signs are everywhere. The Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia, obviously wants appalled travelers to know that it also recognizes that the airport is an embarrassment for such a major city. Of course, the signs leaves unanswered the key question: namely, how did the Port Authority let LaGuardia sink to such a state in the first place?

I’m not sure that touting anticipatory improvements is a good approach. To me, the signs and their slick representation of the supposed LaGuardia to be are a pointed reminder of just how crappy some of the bleak and overcrowded existing concourses are.

Congestion Taxes

It sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke, but it isn’t:  New York lawmakers have approved a budget that will impose a tax on drivers who venture into Manhattan — one of the most congested driving areas in the world.  Drivers in New York City not only will be cursing the gridlock, now they’ll be paying extra for the privilege, too.

maxresdefaultThe budget deal will create a six-member commission that will set the fee to be paid by drivers who cross into Manhattan below 61st Street.  Because the idea is to use the tax to reduce congestion, pricing is expected to be variable, with higher rates during the peak periods and lower rates at night and on weekends.  Electronic readers will assess the tolls, which are expected to be between $11 and $12 for cars during daylight periods and about $25 for trucks.  The tax is forecast to generate about $1 billion in revenues, which New York lawmakers promise to use to address desperate repair needs in New York City’s subway and commuter rail systems.

Congestion taxes are used in other congested cities of the world, like London, but New York City will be the first U.S. city to adopt them.  And if the taxes work as planned in the Big Apple, it isn’t hard to foresee other congested areas of the country, like southern California, adopting them, too.  After all, local governments are always looking for new revenue sources, and this particular approach can be pitched as a method of using taxes to achieve a virtuous result — reduced road congestion and, if the tax revenues are earmarked, improved mass transit.

I’ve driven through New York City exactly once, in a rental car on a Saturday morning when the roads weren’t bad.  I can’t imagine what how nerve-wracking it would be to drive there on a daily basis — and now to pay special taxes for that added stress.

And here’s what’s interesting, too:  if congestion taxes are, in fact, designed to reduce congestion, that reflects an acknowledgement that taxes influence behavior.  That is, such taxes presuppose that some drivers will forgo taking their cars into the congested zone in order to avoid the tax — otherwise, the tax would have no effect on congestion.  But if taxes do in fact affect behavior, and people take action to avoid taxes, what does that mean for New York and New York City generally, which have some of the highest income taxes and other taxes in the U.S.?

Three Days In An Elevator

A New York woman who works for a couple that owns a five-story Manhattan townhouse walked into the elevator for the townhouse on Friday night.  The elevator got stuck, the couple was gone for the weekend, and the woman was trapped in the elevator for three days until she was rescued on Monday.

elevator-stuck.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartIt isn’t clear yet what caused the elevator to break down, or why it apparently wasn’t equipped with a call button that would allow the trapped woman to summon help.  She also apparently did not have a cell phone that could could have used for that purpose, either.

Unlike a prior incident of a person being trapped in an elevator for hours, there’s no video footage of the elevator interior that would show how the woman passed the time.  According to a report of the incident in the New York Times, the woman, whose name is Marites Fortaliza, was conscious and calm when she was finally removed from the elevator and taken to the hospital, and a relative of the townhouse owners who accompanied her to the hospital said she was “doing well.”  That probably means that Ms. Fortaliza had at least some water with her in the elevator, because three days without any water would run a serious risk of dehydration.

It probably also means that Ms. Fortaliza isn’t a claustrophobic, for whom three days trapped in a tiny, broken-down townhouse elevator would be one of the worst imaginable fates.  If you’ve ever been with someone with claustrophobic tendencies in an elevator that experiences any kind of unexpected pause, or bump, you have seen their look of abject terror at even the thought of being stuck in such a small space — and that’s in an elevator in a commercial building, which probably is larger than the elevator in a New York townhouse.  In fact, fear of being trapped in a stuck elevator must be pretty common, because a Google search yields lots of articles giving you instructions on what to do if it happens to you.  One thing is certain:  no claustrophobe would emerge from three days trapped in an elevator looking “calm.”

What’s your worst nightmare?  Whatever it is, remember — you should always keep your cell phone charged, and on your person.

Who’s To Blame For NYC Subway Delays?

If you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City, you know it can be a frustrating, overwhelming experience.  It’s crowded, and hot, and the trains never seem to run on time.  In fact, a recent study determined that, in July, 72,000 subway trains ran late.  That’s a hefty 32 percent of all subway trains on the system.

Who’s to blame?

subway-doorThe New York Metropolitan Transit Authority says the subway riders themselves are one of the causes for the many delays.  The apparent problem is that riders aren’t letting the trains leave on time. If passengers are rushing to the train and the doors are closing, they don’t wait politely for the next train.  Instead, they shove their backpack or arm or leg into the gap, prevent the train doors from closing, and then when the doors open as a result they elbow their way into the already crowded cars.

In short, one of the problems is that . . . well, the vast majority of the NYC subway riders are pushy New Yorkers.  They’ve been conditioned through years of experience to behave in precisely that way in public places, whether it’s in the subway or ignoring “Don’t Walk” signs and dodging traffic on gridlocked Manhattan streets or cutting in line and getting into arguments about it.  And their pushy New Yorker conduct inevitably delays the trains, contributing to the crappy statistics for trains running on time.

The MTA is trying to deal with the problem by having train operators be less tolerant of the arm in the door practice and by having people in the stations as observers, in hopes that riders under the watchful eye of the MTA will behave more appropriately.  A platform controller quoted in the article linked above says, however, that even with the watchers, more courteous rider behavior “is not really catching on.”

Who’d have predicted that New Yorkers would continue to act like New Yorkers?  If the MTA really wants to have the trains run on time, it had better come up with a better solution than hoping that New Yorkers act politely in anonymous public places.

Hamlet At The ‘Gonq

We ended up at the Algonquin Hotel last night. It’s known as the location of the Algonquin Roundtable, where Dorothy Parker and the American literati of the ’20s held forth. It’s also known as the home of Hamlet, the house cat. There’s been a house cat at the ‘Gonq for at least 90 years -and I think they’ve all been called Hamlet.

This morning, Hamlet was guarding the front desk when we left. I’m not a “cat person,” but I think a house cat is pretty cool.

Stranded In NYC

My flight out of LaGuardia got cancelled, no other flights home are available tonight, and we’re trying to find a hotel that can put us up for the night.

Oh, yeah — it’s raining, and apparently every other flight out is being cancelled too.

When that happens, the lobby of the Roosevelt hotel is as good a place as any to make some calls in order to find a room. They don’t have any rooms, but at least it’s dry.

LaGuardia is not my favorite airport.