Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Handling Freak Weather: The Wisdom of a New York Cabbie

By Shlomo Maital

  An enterprising BBC reporter covered New York City’s blizzard, which dumped 75 cms. of snow (30 inches) on the city, by chatting with a New York cabbie (taxi driver).   I’ve found that if you want to really know what is going on in a country, regarding its business energy and economic performance, ask a taxi driver.  The same appears to be true about snow removal.

  Former New York Mayor John Lindsay lost his job after the Feb. 15, 1969, snowstorm dumped 15 inches of snow on New York City and paralyzed it; Lindsay was widely perceived as incompetent.   Today, twice as much snow fell on New York City and within a day the city was back to normal. 

    Cabbie Peter Franklin told BBC that Mayor Michael Blumberg reflected the spirit of New Yorkers.  “The cost of snow clearance,” Franklin said, is “$1 m. per inch of snow”, or $30 m. for the 30 inches.  But, he noted, “Mayor Bloomberg said,  so what? So what if it costs $30 m.?  Let’s just do it.”  Bloomberg realized that you cannot shut down a city, and the cost of doing so, as Mayor Lindsay learned, is a thousand times more than the cost of clearing the snow.

    New York City simply has a method – it takes all its thousands of garbage trucks, and puts snow shovels on the front, and sends them out to clear the snow, then hires day laborers at $14/hr. and has them shovel the snow from intersections.  These two simple ideas together put New York City back into commission after a very short shutdown. 

    “To deal with problems,” cabbie Franklin says, “you need two things:  Will and money.  We in New York have both.  So we did it.”   He expressed price in the resilience of New Yorkers, and likened the snow removal to a “war” – enlisting money and energy, defining the goal (keep things functioning), and then…as the Nike mantra goes, Just Do It! 

     Other cities would do well to benchmark New York City. Meanwhile, cities in snowy climates treat blizzards as ho-hum – Helsinki, and Toronto, and Winnipeg, Canada, for example, while a few inches in London shuts everything down and sows panic.