As we approach the first snowfall of the year, I was reminded of my favorite blog ever. It is also the favorite blog of devoted blog follower, Linda Shafran. It had to do with the hiring of snow plows to clean the side streets in Chicago. The original posting was on September 7, 2009.
Nothing is certain in Chicago but death, taxes and snow. Last year (2008) in a fit of budget pique, Mayor Daley announced the city was cutting back on the snow plowing of side streets. It was almost as if the ukase were pronounced as a punishment to Aldermen – those who would surely bear the brunt of their constituent’s complaints – while the Mayor’s guffaws could be heard chortling through City Hall.
The Daley administration has set forth a proposal to hire private companies to plow side streets this winter as a way to save money. Two options are being explored: one contract would pay a set monthly price for December through March and for half of November and April. The other option would have the city pay an hourly rate when services are necessary.
The Chicago Tribune reported that “several aldermen said they were caught off guard when Daley officials told them of the proposals last week, and they want to have more input into potential changes in such a key city duty.” Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said, "Nothing is more integral to city services than police and fire and city snow removal. I think we have to approach this with a degree of trepidation."
I don’t like either option. Option one is the monthly rate plan. How can the city decide in September how much snow is going to fall in the upcoming winter and, on top of that, be able to determine what the rate plan should be? Sure, the city could use past and future weather charts to try to determine an expectation of how much snow will fall, but a “guestimate” is not how the city should decide pricing on anything.
Option two is the hourly rate. Under the hourly rate, the snow plow driver would have no incentive to clear the street quickly. The longer it takes them to plow, the more money they will make. The hourly rate is just an invitation to plow slowly.
Not being just a naysayer, I have two options of my own to propose. One would be for the city to determine a flat rate per side-street. The snow plowing companies could bid on how many and which streets they want to plow. When snowfall reaches a certain level, the companies would send their trucks out.
My second idea, whimsical though it might be, would to equip the Laz parking meter enforcement aides with riding snow blowers. It is a work-force that currently exists, so costs would be at a minimum. The aides have to be on the streets checking if cars have valid parking receipts, so they are already out there. I researched online and the riding snow-blowers have a speed of 6-8 mph—about the velocity a person travels in a car in the city during inclement weather. Give the aides a few more bucks an hour and they could do the job.