Scrimp My Ride

November 7, 2006

To: Mayor Bloomberg, Council Speaker Quinn and various other electeds and commissioners
Fr: Charles Komanoff
Re: Your request for Conflicts of Interest Board guidance on repayment for personal use of taxpayer-funded cars and drivers.

Forget the Conflicts Board. You don't need them. Talk to me and Brian. We'll tell you what to pay.

Brian is renowned engineer Brian Ketcham, executive director of Community Consulting Services and a pioneering advocate for what he calls "full-cost accounting" for highway expansion and motor vehicle use. In the early 1990s, Brian and I derived painstaking estimates of the full costs of driving in New York City -- not just penny-ante private costs like fuel and maintenance, but big-ticket public costs of highway gridlock, road crashes, air and noise pollution, traffic cops and free parking. These are the costs any public-spirited official fortunate enough to be chauffeured around town in a taxpayer-funded SUV should be more than happy to repay to the citizenry.

As you can imagine, these "social" costs vary wildly depending on where and when you drive. They'll range from a mere dollar an hour on the empty streets of Bay Ridge at 3 a.m. to a whopping five dollars per minute in Midtown on a weekday afternoon, where your vehicle steals space, clean air and precious seconds of time from thousands of other New Yorkers.

So here's the deal: you guys keep track of where and when you're in your vehicle. (You do keep time sheets, don't you?) Brian and I volunteer to update our numbers and link our program to your taxpayer-paid GPS. Voilá  -- a daily accounting of what your taxpayer funded vehicle really costs. You can give it up with PayPal.

How much dough are we talking about? Let's do a little math. Assume you drive two hours a day, seven days a week, 50 weeks a year. Since so much of your driving is in Manhattan, let's place your average cost of driving at a dollar a per minute. Your annual repayment comes to around $40,000. (Your driver is extra.)

Seem a little steep? We understand. Car users are renowned for their sense of entitlement, as are elected officials. Put the two together and, well, just ask Alan Hevesi or Jeanine Pirro (winking at Albert's two speeding tickets in two months) or the next elected who gets caught DWI and blames everyone but himself.

Yes, your wallet may take a hit but your civic standing will soar. First, there was E-ZPass. Then, term limits. Next, full-cost accounting of environmental damage. Catch it, now!